Cirrhosis of the Liver

Cirrhosis of the Liver

What is cirrhosis of the liver?

Cirrhosis of the liver is the terminal stage of continues harm to the liver, which the liver reaches after long term damage to the liver tissue. The damage to the liver tissue causes scarring on the liver and since scar tissue does not have the functional capabilities that liver tissue does, the liver loses the ability to perform the many essential tasks that it is responsible for.

Often, it takes many years to reach this stage, but eventually the liver may fail and it can cause the patient to die. Det true liver tissue cannot be reproduced and therefore the disease is incurable.


What are the symptoms of cirrhosis?

Symptoms of cirrhosis vary greatly in nature and intensity. However, some of the symptoms can be:

  • General malaise: Fatigue, loss of appetite, lack of initiative and decreased sex drive.
  • Loss of consciousness and mental functioning: Memory problems, confusion, behavioral changes, difficulty sleeping and possibly unconsciousness and coma.
  • Water retention in the stomach (Ascites)
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Dark urine


What are the causes of cirrhosis?

The underlying causes of the liver damage and subsequent scarring are several different liver diseases occurring prior to this stage of the liver.

Potential causes of cirrhosis include alcoholic liver disease, which is a result of a high alcohol consumption causing fat accumulation. This condition is called alcoholic fatty liver, which can lead to inflammation of the liver, also known as alcoholic hepatitis. Fat can also accumulate in the liver as a result of obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and metabolic diseases. In addition, cirrhosis of the liver can be caused by viral hepatitis most often caused by an infection of hepatitis B or C virus, which is transmitted through the blood. The inflammation caused by alcohol or virus will potentially lead to formation of scar tissue.

Alcohol abuse and hepatitis C are responsible for most cases of cirrhosis in the UK.

In the first stages of the liver disease, enough healthy liver cells must exist to perform the essential tasks that the liver is responsible for. If the disease and the underlying causes are not discovered and treated in time, the liver will eventually not be able to compensate for the loss of functional liver cells. The liver will not be able to clear toxic substances from the blood, to get rid of bilirubin, which stain the skin and makes the eyes yellow (jaundice) or to produce clotting factors, which leads to a tendency to bleed and bruise more easily.

When the scarring progresses in the liver, the liver becomes irregular and firm. This may block the blood vessels, which pass from the intestines through the liver to be detoxified, and then ends in the heart. This raises the pressure in the portal veins, forcing the blood to flow around the liver through veins with lower pressure to reach the heart. These veins lining the oesophagus and upper stomach expand and the patient may eventually end up bleeding in the stomach. Furthermore, salt and water are retained by the kidneys and this may cause fluid accumulation in the abdomen (ascites). Bacteria from the intestines may enter the bloodstream and cause spontaneous bacterial peritonitis.


What are the treatments for cirrhosis?

Unfortunately there is no curative treatment for cirrhosis. Treatment aims to correct the underlying causes of the disease, to stop the condition from worsening and to manage symptoms and complications. Thus, the treatment will vary depending on whether it is caused by alcohol, viral infection or other diseases such as diabetes a.o. In some cases, the condition is so severe that medication can not correct the damage, and the only option is a liver transplant.

Whether it is the cause of the disease or not, avoidance of alcohol will always be recommended.
The different complications and symptoms of the disease, such as fluid retention and infection will also be treated, for example with diuretic against the former or antibiotics against the latter.

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