What is Cirrhosis?
A long-term or chronic disease, cirrhosis occurs when scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue, stopping the liver from working normally. The scar tissue blocks the flow of blood through the liver and slows the liver's ability to process nutrients, hormones, drugs, and natural toxins.
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There are many causes of cirrhosis, which can range from heavy alcohol use to hepatitis B and C, fatty liver disease and autoimmune hepatitis.If untreated, severe cases of cirrhosis can lead to significant, irreversible liver damage and eventually liver failure.
Symptoms of Cirrhosis
In many patients, there will not be any symptoms until the cirrhosis is quite advanced. Some of the most common warning signs include:
- Yellowing of the skin and/or eyes (jaundice)
- Abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting
- Swelling of the legs, ankles, and belly
- Severe itchiness of the skin
- Easy bruising and bleeding
- Heavy bleeding from the blood vessels in the esophagus (food pipe)
- Fluid buildup in the lungs
- Feeling full and tired
- Trouble breathing
- Sleep difficulties (too much or too little)
- Confusion that can come on suddenly
Cirrhosis Treatment Options
Liver damage caused by cirrhosis can’t be cured but further damage can be limited. Once a diagnosis of cirrhosis has been confirmed, the goal of treatment will be to slow down the buildup of scar tissue and prevent worsening of scarring and sometimes improve scarring. Treatments may include:
- Anti-viral medications to treat hepatitis B or C infections
- Controlling high iron or copper levels in the blood
- Immune-suppressing medications
- Lifestyle changes including:
- Eating a healthy diet, low in sodium
- Eliminating alcohol or illegal drugs
In severe cases of cirrhosis where treatment is no longer effective, a liver transplant may be needed.
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