Cirrhosis is a chronic liver disease and is characterized by scarring of the liver and poor liver function. Scar tissue in the liver may form as the result of injury or from chronic illness, and causes the liver to be unable to perform its function.
The liver is a large organ that is located in the upper right abdomen, just beneath the right lung. The liver is responsible for a number of functions, including manufacturing proteins for blood clotting, removing harmful substances such as bacteria and toxins from your blood and processing nutrients and other substances such as medications. The liver also produces bile that then flows into the intestine through the bile ducts to aid in digestion.
Scarring in the liver damages normal structure and inhibits regrowth of damaged liver cells. This prevents the liver from performing its normal functions.
Cirrhosis may be caused by a variety of hereditary, environmental and lifestyle factors, including:
- Overconsumption of alcohol
- Chronic illness such as viral hepatitis or autoimmune hepatitis
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
- Chronic bile duct blockage
- Cystic fibrosis or other inherited diseases
- Exposure to certain drugs or toxins
Signs and Symptoms of Cirrhosis
Cirrhosis develops gradually overtime, and may take years to develop. As the condition develops the patient may not experience any symptoms. Over time, patients who have cirrhosis may begin to feel increased weakness, fatigue or a decreased appetite. If cirrhosis has fully developed, then there are a number of signs or symptoms that may be present related to complications of liver disease.
- Fluid collecting in legs (edema) and abdomen (ascites)
- Bruising and bleeding because of impaired clotting
- Portal hypertension
- Esophageal varices
- Enlarged spleen
- Yellowing of the skin called jaundice
- Increased sensitivity to medications
- Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
Diagnosis of Cirrhosis
Your physician may suspect cirrhosis after evaluating your personal medical history and conducting a physical examination. Blood tests and ultrasound examinations can also help your physician to detect if scarring has developed in your liver.
Occasionally a liver biopsy may be recommended if results will change the treatment strategy your gastroenterologist advises. During this examination, a thin needle is inserted through the right, lower chest and a small sample of tissue is obtained from the liver to be evaluated further under a microscope.
Treatment of Cirrhosis
If your gastroenterologist diagnosis you with cirrhosis of the liver, then you will be provided with a detailed plan for treatment that is designed to prevent scarring from spreading to the remaining liver cells, and to correct the complications caused by the present damage.
Your gastroenterologist will discuss with you the probable cause of the cirrhosis, and treatment will likely be shaped around the removal of the cause of the scarring. One of the leading forms of treatment for cirrhosis is prevention through the management of certain lifestyle habits, such as eliminating alcohol consumption or obtaining treatment for hepatitis.