Cirrhosis of the Liver – What You Must Know
What is Cirrhosis
Cirrhosis of the liver is a medical condition that affects people who have experienced an injury or a long term illness that results in scarring of the liver. Eventually the scar tissue will develop in such a way that it blocks normal healthy tissue from functioning in the liver. As the disease begins to advance, the results are irreversible and once diagnosed; the eventual prognosis is complete liver failure. Those affected by cirrhosis include anyone who abuses alcohol to a degree of unhealthy consumption over a sustained period of time, anyone suffering from the viral illness hepatitis B or C, and anyone who has been diagnosed with fatty liver disease due to cholesterol issues or obesity.
Why Cirrhosis Can be Devastating
Your liver is responsible for producing bile which helps digest food as well as acting as a filter for the bloodstream removing toxins, poisons, and other harmful additives. It also uses Vitamin K to produce several types of proteins that cause your blood to clot when a blood-letting injury occurs. If cirrhosis of the liver becomes very severe, liver failure can occur. When the liver shuts down completely, the human body can only survive a couple of days without it. Livers have been known to continually function, albeit partially, with even 75% diseased or removed, but remember that the more strain put on the liver, the shorter its lifespan becomes. That’s why people with severe liver damage or cirrhosis are put on such restrictive diet and activity schedules. The body literally cannot afford to do much without the filtration provided by the liver. Another danger of severe cirrhosis of the liver is the propensity for cancerous cells to form. Because of the scarring in and on the liver, it’s possible that damage to the cells can alter the genes inside them making them cancerous. Those with viral hepatitis infections are especially vulnerable and must be checked twice a year for cancer.
There are several types of cirrhosis of the liver, depending on the cause of the disease and the way symptoms present themselves in the patient. Those patients suffering from the infections of hepatitis C, which is an inflammation of the liver, have a 1 in 4 chance of developing cirrhosis of the liver. These odds increase exponentially when combined with alcoholic consumption, another cause of cirrhosis, which is why patients diagnosed with Hepatitis C are encouraged to alter their lifestyles to include an alcohol free diet. As mentioned earlier, alcoholic consumption is a cause for scarring of the liver. The symptoms of alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver usually present themselves after ten or more years of heavy drinking, with about 10% of heavy daily drinkers being affected by this disease. While the effects cannot be reversed, the progress can be slowed by ceasing drinking altogether. Primary Biliary Cirrhosis (PBC) is an auto-immune disease that actually strikes the bile ducts inside the liver, causing them to become inflamed, and scar tissue to form from the inside of the liver, first destroying the bile ducts, then the rest of the liver. Why the body decides to attack its own cells is unknown, but reasons include environmental or viral encounters as well as genetic pre-disposition. It is known that those suffering from this type of cirrhosis of the liver also suffer from thyroid malfunctions, osteoporosis, and inflammatory arthritis.
Symptoms for Cirrhosis
Minor symptoms of cirrhosis of the liver include fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, unexplained weight loss, itchy skin, pain in the right side of the abdomen, and the appearance of red spider shaped blood vessels under the skin. As the disease progresses you may notice that you bruise or bleed easily, are having frequent nosebleeds, or are passing blood in bowel movements. As the waste that would normally be filtered by a healthy liver begins to build up in your body, you may have difficulty thinking clearly or have blurred vision. You may experience swelling in the hands and feet (called edema) or a swelling in the abdomen (called ascites) as fluids begin to build up. If you noticed any of these more advanced symptoms, you should seek medical advice immediately.
Diagnosis of Cirrhosis
If the advance symptoms are not present, or signs of jaundice (yellowing) in the skin and the whites of the eyes is not present, then a physician will order a CT scan, an MRI, and eventually a full liver biopsy to determine a positive ID of cirrhosis of the liver. Additional blood testing can determine the liver productivity level as well as the causes of cirrhosis. The liver functionality blood test will check for proteins that help in metabolism, blood-clotting agents, and bilirubin levels which are produced when the liver breaks down hemoglobin. One of the physical symptoms of increased bilirubin levels is jaundice.
Treatment and Prognosis of Cirrhosis
A diagnosis of cirrhosis of the liver is not necessarily a death knell. Many patients continue to live altered lifestyles with only partial liver productivity. Some lifestyle changes need to take place immediately as cirrhosis treatment. These include cessation of alcohol consumption completely and without exception, avoiding prescription and non-prescription blood-thinning drugs that contain acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen, and switching to a low sodium diet if swelling symptoms are present. Also, immunizing immediately against hepatitis A & B as well as influenza and pneumococcus are necessary to halt the progress of cirrhosis. It is important to treat the symptoms and causes of the cirrhosis to keep it from spreading. While the effects on the liver cannot be changed, patients can extend their lives by taking better care not to be at risk for further infection.
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