What is cirrhosis?
Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver that may happen as a complication of many diseases affecting the liver. The liver is a large organ located on the upper right side of the abdomen. When the liver is scarred, it stops functioning as well and may not do its jobs within the body.
What causes cirrhosis?
The liver helps cleanse the body of toxins and bacteria, and also produces certain proteins that the body needs. When the liver is irritated or inflamed because of toxins, infection, or other reasons, it tries to heal itself by forming scar tissue. With time, this leads to scarring of the liver called cirrhosis. Causes of liver damage include:
• Heavy alcohol use - people who abuse alcohol are at the greatest risk for cirrhosis
• Hepatitis B or C - These viruses are spread by sharing needles or having sex with people who are infected. They cause liver disease that can eventually lead to cirrhosis
• Nonalcoholic steoatohepatitis (NASH) - NASH resembles alcoholic liver disease, but occurs in people who drink little or no alcohol. Although the cause of NASH is unknown, many people who develop this disease are obese and have diabetes
What are the symptoms of cirrhosis?
Some people with cirrhosis have no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they can include:
• Weakness and fatigue
• Swelling of the abdomen and/or legs due to extra fluid
• Bruising or bleeding easily, especially from the stomach or esophagus
• Trouble breathing
• Yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes, called jaundice
• Spider like blood vessels on the skin
• Loss of appetite
How is cirrhosis diagnosed?
The diagnosis of cirrhosis is usually based on the presence of a risk factor for cirrhosis, such as alcohol use or obesity, and is confirmed by physical examination, blood tests and imaging tests such as abdominal ultrasound. In some cases, the doctor may order a liver biopsy.
How is cirrhosis treated?
Treatment usually depends on the cause of the disease, how severe it is and what symptoms you have. The goals of treatment are to slow the progression of scar tissue in the liver and prevent or treat the symptoms of the disease. The main treatments include:
• Avoiding alcohol and medications that can damage the liver
• Medicines called beta blockers may be used to reduce blood pressure in the liver and help reduce the chance of bleeding from the esophagus if abnormal blood vessels (varices) are present
• Medicines called diuretics are sometimes used to decrease fluid build-up that causes bloating in the abdomen. Your doctor may also ask you to go on a special diet and to monitor your weight closely
Will I need a new liver?
People with cirrhosis need a new liver when their symptoms cannot be controlled by treatment. Ask your doctor whether this is an option for you and talk about the process before you get too sick. The number of people who need a liver transplant is much greater than the number of livers donated. People with the best chance of living for a long time are the most likely candidates for a liver transplant.
What can I do to help manage my cirrhosis?
To help slow the development of cirrhosis:
• Do not drink alcohol
• Get the vaccine for hepatitis B and A, if you need it
• Use condoms when you have sex
• Do not share drug needles
This document is intended to provide health related information so that you may be better informed. It is not a substitute for your care team's medical advice and should not be relied upon for treatment for specific medical conditions.
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