Cirrhosis is a disease of the liver in which scar tissue replaces normal liver tissue and blocks blood flow, leading to decreased function of the organ. The liver is the largest toxin-remover in the body and its decreased function leads to a build-up of toxins which can ultimately be fatal. Further, the liver acts to produce bile and helps to regulate blood clotting and the immune system. All of these functions can be adversely affected by cirrhosis, causing disability, disease, and even death. Although the liver has very strong powers of recuperation, it cannot replace scar tissue with healthy liver tissue and over many years cirrhosis can affect so much of it that it cannot recover. Liver failure is then inevitable and terminal. There are many causes of cirrhosis, including alcoholism, hepatitis, blocked bile ducts, infections, toxins, and inherited diseases.
Toxins can include prescription drugs and environmental toxins. Drugs such as Rezulin and even acetaminophen have been shown to have a severely toxic effect on the liver, and can cause cirrhosis or even liver failure. Some chemicals, when inhaled or ingested, can enter the blood stream. Since the liver is the organ which eliminates toxins from the bloodstream, a heavy overload of them can overwork it and lead to scarring. Hepatitis is the name for a viral disease of the liver. There are several variants, the most common being Hepatitis C. All are chronic unless aggressively treated and lead to inflammation and low grade disease which can result in cirrhosis.
There are many inherited diseases that interfere with the way in which the liver metabolizes and stores proteins and enzymes, ultimately leading to irreversible liver damage. These include hemochromatosis, glycogen storage diseases, and Wilson’s disease.
Bile ducts lead bile out of the liver into the digestive tract. If the ducts are scarred by disease or injured, they can become blocked. Bile backs up into the liver and results in liver damage. The damaged tissue ultimately becomes scar tissue and cirrhosis occurs.
Alcoholism is the most common cause of cirrhosis. It is believed that alcohol interferes with normal liver metabolism. Over the course of many years, the liver damage causes scarring and cirrhosis. As liver function begins to fail, a person will begin to experience exhaustion, loss of appetite and weight, nausea, and weakness. There are many complications which occur during liver failure, including:
- Increased bruising or bleeding
- Enlarged blood vessels in the stomach and esophagus (varices);
Treatment depends on the symptoms and causes of the cirrhosis. Alcoholic cirrhosis requires abstention from alcohol, for instance. Hepatitis is treated by medications for the specific form of hepatitis. Most important is proper nutrition and the avoidance of further agents that could affect the liver adversely. The treatments for complications to cirrhosis vary widely. If treatments fail, a liver transplant may be necessary.
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