What is Liver Cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis describes a liver condition characterized by non-living scar tissue. It is always related to other liver diseases. The most common causes of cirrhosis include hepatitis C, alcohol abuse, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), and hepatitis B.

Scar tissue is permanently damaged tissue that is no longer able to function. As the amount of scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue your liver becomes less and less able to function normally. In addition, scar tissue can cause blockage of blood flow through your liver, further spreading the damage. As cirrhosis gets worse, your liver begins to fail.

Who is at risk?

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, researchers estimate that about 1 in 400 adults in the United States has cirrhosis. Among adults ages 45 to 54, 1 in 200 adults in the US has cirrhosis. Researchers believe the actual numbers may be higher because many people with cirrhosis are not diagnosed. People at highest risk if the have:

  • Abused alcohol for a long time
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)
  • Chronic viral hepatitis
  • Bile duct disease

Signs and symptoms

Many people are not aware that they have cirrhosis, since they may not have signs or symptoms until their liver is badly damaged. Some indications are similar to other conditions making it difficult to determine that liver disease is the specific reason for your symptoms. These include, chronic fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, easily bleeding, jaundice, fluid accumulation in the abdomen, swelling in the legs.

Impacts of cirrhosis

In some people, complications may be the first sign of the cirrhosis. One of the most common complications is portal hypertension, which results from narrowing or partial blockage of the portal vein, the large blood vessel that carries blood from your stomach, intestines, spleen, gallbladder, and pancreas to the liver.

Portal hypertension can then lead to:

  • Varices, or enlarged veins in your esophagus, stomach, or intestines, which can in turn cause internal bleeding if the veins burst
  • Edema, or swelling in the legs, ankles, or feet
  • Ascites or a buildup of fluid in the abdomen, which can lead to a serious infection in area surrounding your liver and intestines
  • Hepatic encephalopathy, which a buildup of toxins in your brain that causes confusion or difficulties thinking
  • Infections from bacteria such as urinary tract infections
  • Liver cancer
  • Liver failure

Diagnosing cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is diagnosed by symptoms, blood tests, medical history, and physical examination. Blood tests measure levels of proteins and enzymes in your blood that might indicate cirrhosis. Imaging tests such as ultrasound or magnetic resonance elastography detect hardness of the liver, which is an indication of scarred tissue, other imaging tests may include MRI or CT scans.

Other tests combine multiple blood chemistry factors and proteins along with other factors such as age, weight to produce a fuller picture of liver condition that can identify patients who should undergo further invasive testing. Biopsy uses a needle to take samples of liver tissue to identify severity and extent of liver damage.

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