Cirrhosis is severe and irreversible scarring caused by ongoing, long-term liver damage. It is a progressive condition where scar tissue gradually replaces healthy tissue. This scar tissue limits liver function. As it spreads, cirrhosis can cause complete liver failure, a fatal condition that requires a liver transplant. Cirrhosis can also increase your risk of liver cancer.
Symptoms progress as the disease does. You may experience no symptoms at first. Then, as scarring increases, you may have itchy skin, lose your appetite, or feel nauseated. If you have advanced cirrhosis, this can cause jaundice, oedema (the retention of fluid in the legs), the passing of dark stools, and vomiting blood.
Doctors treat cirrhosis according to its cause. Alcohol abuse, hepatitis C, and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, which causes fat to accumulate in the liver, are common causes.
Cirrhosis has no cure. The scarring is permanent. However, doctors can help you manage your symptoms and halt the progression of the disease.
GlobMed can support you to find a doctor that can diagnose cirrhosis and tailor a plan to treat or manage this condition.
Some lifestyle modifications can help prevent the further development of scar tissue on the liver. These include:
- Not smoking.
- Drinking less alcohol or stopping completely. Alcoholics should be treated for alcohol dependency.
- Regular exercise.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
- Good hygiene to prevent infection.
- Vaccination to help prevent illness (e.g., flu).
Malnutrition is a common condition if you have cirrhosis. Healthy livers store glycogen, which is fuel the body uses for energy. If a liver has excessive scar tissue, this storage is limited. A lack of glycogen induces your body to use muscle tissue for energy instead. This causes muscle loss and general weakness.
A healthy and balanced diet is particularly important. Your body requires several nutrients to support the effective functioning of your liver. You’ll also require extra calories and protein to compensate for your liver’s lack of glycogen. Eating many small meals throughout the day or healthy snacking can give your body constant energy and help prevent muscle damage. Cutting down on salt is also important, as this can help prevent oedema.
Although there is no cure, medication can help lessen cirrhosis symptoms. If you have cirrhosis as a result of hepatitis C, a doctor will treat that condition. Common medications used in cirrhosis treatment and management include:
- Antivirals. If your cirrhosis developed from a hepatitis C infection, you may be prescribed antiviral medicine.
- Diuretics can reduce oedema, a side effect of cirrhosis.
- Blood pressure medication.
- Creams to ease itchy skin.
- Laxatives. Toxins can build up when your liver isn’t functioning properly. This can lead to encephalopathy, which affects your brain function, causing fatigue and confusion. A laxative can be used to help clear toxins from your body.
- Antibiotics to prevent infections.
- Medication to control diabetes. Cirrhosis can cause type 2 diabetes to worsen. Diabetes needs to be carefully monitored in cirrhosis patients.
- Medication or blood plasma to stop bleeding. Cirrhosis can affect your body’s blood clotting ability which can lead to severe bleeding.
A liver transplant is the only option if you have liver failure. This is a major operation in which a surgeon removes your diseased liver and replaces it with a healthy donor liver. Unfortunately, wait times for a suitable donor liver can be very long.
Frequently Asked Questions
The hepatitis C virus progressively damages the liver. It causes inflammation that can develop into permanent, irreversible scarring.
Alcohol abuse is a significant risk factor. Women are more likely than men to develop cirrhosis from excessive alcohol use
The liver has a unique ability to regenerate itself. It can regrow to a normal size even after up to 90% of it has been removed. However, cirrhosis is permanent. The liver cannot heal itself of scarring associated with this condition.