Cirrhosis is a disease in which the liver becomes severely scarred, usually as a result of many years of continuous injury. Common causes of cirrhosis include alcohol abuse and Hepatitis C. In advanced stages, cirrhosis is usually irreversible, so treatment may involve symptom management. If the disease is in its earlier stages and underlying causes can be treated, cirrhosis may be reversible.
People with cirrhosis of the liver sometimes have no symptoms, especially in earlier stages of the disease. However, cirrhosis can cause a long list of symptoms, which may or may not occur together. Some of the more common symptoms include:
There are various liver diseases and conditions that can lead to cirrhosis. In the United States, the two most common causes are alcohol abuse and Hepatitis C, which together account for roughly half of the people awaiting liver transplants.
If your digestive health provider suspects cirrhosis, they will usually order an imaging test, often an ultrasound, as well as blood tests. They may also order a biopsy, which involves obtaining a sample of liver tissue to be examined.
In cirrhosis, scar tissue partially blocks the flow of blood, increasing pressure in the portal vein, which carries blood to the liver from other organs. Portal hypertension is common in cirrhosis and may lead to other complications.
Cirrhosis treatment is determined by various factors, including the stage of the disease and the underlying cause. In general, treatment may involve:
Liver diseases, like cirrhosis of the liver, are known to damage healthy cells, resulting in cell death and inflammation throughout the liver. Once these damaged cells begin to heal, scar tissue is formed, leaving a significant restriction of blood flow. This can slow the liver's ability to successfully process hormones, nutrients, drugs, and other toxins that filter through the liver.
Cirrhosis of the liver is a common medical condition affecting approximately 1 in 400 adults in the United States alone, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders. This condition primarily affects adults aged 45 to 54 years old. However, it is one of the leading causes of death in both young and older adults between the ages of 25 to 64 years old.
Certain risk factors are associated with a person developing cirrhosis of the liver, such as prolonged alcohol abuse, diabetes, viral hepatitis, obesity, sharing needles through drug use, unprotected sex, and a previous medical history including other liver diseases.
Cirrhosis of the liver in itself is not a medical condition that is inherited through genetics or family history, however, it can be caused by other hereditary conditions including:
Unlike how a physician will stage cancer following a diagnosis, there are no specific stages when it comes to cirrhosis of the liver. Once a diagnosis of this life-altering medical condition has been made, it is either compensated cirrhosis or decompensated cirrhosis.
Compensated cirrhosis is accompanied by continuing to receive normal lab results and maintaining asymptomatic status - meaning there are currently no symptoms being experienced. A liver biopsy is needed for an official diagnosis of compensated cirrhosis of the liver.
Decompensated cirrhosis is diagnosed when a patient has received abnormal lab results from their primary care physician accompanied by experiencing noticeable symptoms in addition to at least one or more comorbidity including but not limited to:
It is important to know that there is currently no known cure for cirrhosis of the liver. Treatment focuses on slowing the damage to your liver, managing and treating symptoms as they appear, and working to prevent and treat any complications that may arise throughout the duration of medical treatment. Treatment may include controlling alcohol dependency, prescription medications, and continual screening for liver cancer.