Cirrhosis is a late stage of scarring (fibrosis) of the liver caused by many forms of liver diseases and conditions, such as hepatitis and chronic alcoholism.
Each time your liver is injured — whether by disease, excessive alcohol consumption or another cause — it tries to repair itself. In the process, scar tissue forms. As cirrhosis progresses, more and more scar tissue forms, making it difficult for the liver to function (decompensated cirrhosis). Advanced cirrhosis is life-threatening.
The liver damage done by cirrhosis generally can't be undone. But if liver cirrhosis is diagnosed early and the cause is treated, further damage can be limited and, rarely, reversed.
Cirrhosis often has no signs or symptoms until liver damage is extensive.
When signs and symptoms do occur, they may include:
Easily bleeding or bruising
Loss of appetite
Swelling in your legs, feet or ankles (edema)
Yellow discoloration in the skin and eyes (jaundice)
Fluid accumulation in your abdomen (ascites)
Spiderlike blood vessels on your skin
Redness in the palms of the hands
For women, absent or loss of periods not related to menopause
For men, loss of sex drive, breast enlargement (gynecomastia) or testicular atrophy
Confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech (hepatic encephalopathy)
A wide range of diseases and conditions can damage the liver and lead to cirrhosis.
Some of the causes include:
Chronic alcohol abuse
Chronic viral hepatitis (hepatitis B, C and D)
Fat accumulating in the liver (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease)
Iron buildup in the body (hemochromatosis)
Copper accumulated in the liver (Wilson's disease)
Poorly formed bile ducts (biliary atresia)
Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency
Inherited disorders of sugar metabolism (galactosemia or glycogen storage disease)
Genetic digestive disorder (Alagille syndrome)
Liver disease caused by your body's immune system (autoimmune hepatitis)
Destruction of the bile ducts (primary biliary cirrhosis)
Hardening and scarring of the bile ducts (primary sclerosing cholangitis
Infection, such as syphilis or brucellosis
Medications, including methotrexate or isoniazid
Drinking too much alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption is a risk factor for cirrhosis.
Being overweight. Being obese increases your risk of conditions that may lead to cirrhosis, such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis.
Having viral hepatitis. Not everyone with chronic hepatitis will develop cirrhosis, but it's one of the world's leading causes of liver disease.
Treatment for cirrhosis depends on the cause and extent of your liver damage. The goals of treatment are to slow the progression of scar tissue in the liver and to prevent or treat symptoms and complications of cirrhosis. You may need to be hospitalized if you have severe liver damage.
Treatment for the Underlying Cause of Cirrhosis
In early cirrhosis, it may be possible to minimize damage to the liver by treating the underlying cause. The options include:
Treatment for alcohol dependency. People with cirrhosis caused by excessive alcohol use should try to stop drinking. If stopping alcohol use is difficult, your doctor may recommend a treatment program for alcohol addiction. If you have cirrhosis, it is critical to stop drinking since any amount of alcohol is toxic to the liver.
Weight loss. People with cirrhosis caused by nonalcoholic fatty liver disease may become healthier if they lose weight and control their blood sugar levels.
Medications to control hepatitis. Medications may limit further damage to liver cells caused by hepatitis B or C through specific treatment of these viruses.
Medications to control other causes and symptoms of cirrhosis. Medications may slow the progression of certain types of liver cirrhosis. For example, for people with primary biliary cirrhosis that is diagnosed early, medication may significantly delay progression to cirrhosis. Other medications can relieve certain symptoms, such as itching, fatigue and pain. Nutritional supplements may be prescribed to counter malnutrition associated with cirrhosis and to prevent weak bones (osteoporosis).
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