Cirrhosis of Liver
Cirrhosis of Liver Treatment
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What is Cirrhosis?
Cirrhosis is a slowly progressing disease in which healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue, eventually preventing the liver from functioning properly. The scar tissue blocks the flow of blood through the liver and slows the processing of nutrients, hormones, drugs, and naturally produced toxins. It also slows the production of proteins and other substances made by the liver. The scarring of the liver due to several types of liver conditions and diseases that include chronic alcohol abuse and hepatitis.
What causes cirrhosis?
There are many causes of cirrhosis. In the UK the most common causes are heavy alcohol drinking and infection with the hepatitis C virus.
Alcoholic cirrhosis - Your liver cells break down alcohol, but too much alcohol can damage the liver cells. As a rule, the heavier your drinking, the more your risk of developing cirrhosis. However, alcoholic cirrhosis is not just a condition of alcoholics. People who are social heavy drinkers can also develop cirrhosis.
About 1 in 10 heavy drinkers will eventually develop cirrhosis. It tends to occur after 10 or more years of heavy drinking. It is not clear why some people are more prone to their liver cells becoming damaged by alcohol and to developing cirrhosis. There may be a genetic tendency. Women who are heavy drinkers seem to be more prone to cirrhosis than men.
Hepatitis C and cirrhosis - Chronic (persistent) infection with the hepatitis C virus causes long-term inflammation in the liver. This can eventually lead to liver scarring and cirrhosis. Up to 1 in 5 people with chronic hepatitis C develop cirrhosis but this usually takes about 20 years or even longer from the initial infection.
Other causes of cirrhosis
Less common causes include:
What are the symptoms of cirrhosis?
In the early stages of the condition, often there are no symptoms. You can get by with a reduced number of working liver cells. However, as more and more liver cells die, and more and more scar tissue builds up, the liver:
Therefore, the symptoms that may develop include:
Also, the scar tissue restricts the flow of blood through the liver. As the cirrhosis becomes worse, this causes back pressure in the portal vein (known as portal hypertension). The portal vein is the vein that takes blood from the gut to the liver - it contains digested foods. Increased pressure in this vein can cause swellings (varices) to develop in the branches of the vein in the lining of the oesophagus (gullet) and stomach. These varices have a tendency to bleed easily into the gut. If a bleed occurs, you may vomit blood, or pass blood with your stools (faeces).
Signs of chronic liver disease
Signs of liver disease include:
Signs of liver failure
What is the treatment for cirrhosis?
Cirrhosis tends to get progressively worse if the underlying cause persists and is not treated. In general, once the damage is done the scarring is not able to reverse. Therefore, the aim of treatment is, if possible, to prevent further liver scarring, or to slow the progression of the scarring process. Treatments that may be advised include the following.
Stop drinking alcohol - whatever the cause of cirrhosis, you should stop drinking alcohol completely. Drinking alcohol will increase the rate of progression of cirrhosis from whatever cause.
Be cautious when taking medicines - always tell your doctor or pharmacist that you have cirrhosis if you take any prescribed or over-the-counter medicines. Some medicines that are processed in the liver may need their dose adjusted if you have liver problems, or even should not be used at all.
Treatment for underlying causes - some of the underlying causes of cirrhosis can be treated. This may slow down, or halt, the progression of cirrhosis. For example:
Treatment to ease symptoms and prevent complications - various treatments may be advised, depending on the severity of the cirrhosis and the symptoms that develop. For example:
Treatment of bleeding varices - A bleed from varices (described above) is a medical emergency. Seek medical help immediately if you have cirrhosis and you vomit blood, or pass blood in your faeces, or if your faeces become black. Various surgical techniques can be used to stop the bleeding and to help reduce the risk of further bleeds.
Liver transplant - In severe cases, where the scarring is extensive and the liver can barely function, then a liver transplant may be the only option.
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