Cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver has many causes, including chronic viral hepatitis (Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C), fatty liver disease (NASH and NAFLD), and excessive alcohol use. Whatever the cause, such scarring interferes with normal liver function, which includes such vital responsibilities as:
- Regulating the composition of blood
- Removing toxins from the blood
- Processing and storing nutrients
- Producing proteins
- Metabolizing alcohol and many drugs.
Those with cirrhosis also have a higher risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer, and liver failure leading to possible need for liver transplant.
Cirrhosis has two clinical stages, compensated and decompensated.
Compensated cirrhosis means that the liver is still managing to function despite partial scarring. Some people may experience no symptoms at this stage, while others may experience:
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Weight loss or loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Spider angiomas: a red spot on the skin with tiny blood vessels radiating from it
Decompensated cirrhosis occurs as the scarring of the liver increases. Symptoms may include:
- Jaundice: the yellowing of the skin and whites of the eye
- Fluid buildup causing swelling in the legs or abdomen (ascites)
- Itching, caused by the excessive bile products
- Red, blotchy palms
- In men, breast tissue growth and shrunken testicles
- Easy bruising and excessive bleeding
- Increased risk of infection
- Mental confusion, irritability (encephalopathy) from a build-up of ammonia
Living with cirrhosis requires lifestyle changes to slow the progress of the condition and reduce the risk of complications, including:
- Quitting any alcohol use, even if it is not the cause of your cirrhosis
- Limiting dietary salt and fat
- Avoiding eating raw oysters and other raw shellfish that can transmit infections
- Your doctor may recommend immunizations against hepatitis A and B, flu, and pneumonia
Patients will need to be regularly tested to gauge liver function as once the disease progresses to liver failure, the only course of treatment is a liver transplant.
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