Cirrhosis is the excessive scarring of the liver, generally caused by prolonged inflammation, that prevents the liver from functioning properly. Cirrhosis is a chronic (long-term) condition.
Why it is problematic
The liver is the organ that is responsible for detoxification, protein synthesis, cleansing the blood and aiding digestion. The liver is unable to perform these vital functions when cirrhosis is present. Cirrhosis can lead to complications such as ascites (fluid buildup in the abdomen that can become infected), liver cancer, hepatic encephalopathy(decreased mental capacity due to liver dysfunction), coma, and life threatening bleeding conditions caused by ruptured varices such as esophageal varices.
Causes and Risk Factors
Cirrhosis can occur as a result of a viral infection or the introduction of any other pathogen that harms the liver, through alcohol consumption, excess fat accumulation in the liver, bile duct hardening or scarring, certain inherited genetic disorders, some autoimmune disorders such as iron build up in the body (hemochromatosis), copper accumulation in the liver (Wilson’s disease), and drugs, or toxins.
Some individuals with cirrhosis will experience few or no symptoms. Sometimes the symptoms are nonspecific and do not directly suggest a liver problem. Common symptoms of cirrhosis are:
- Spider angiomas (multiple, appearing suddenly)
- Red Palms (palmar erythema)
- Itching (pruritus)
- Ascites (excess fluid in abdomen)
- Musty, sweet-smelling breath
- Decreased cognitive function (hepatic encephalopathy)
- Esophageal varices (enlarged veins in the throat)
- Loss of appetite
- Bruising easily
Cirrhosis may be suspected based on symptoms such as esophageal varices, thrombocytopenia, an endoscopy, liver biopsy, FibroScan®, or MRE, diagnostic imaging techniques such as MRI, CT and ultrasound can all help to reach a cirrhosis diagnosis.
Cirrhosis treatments vary depending on the cause of the scarring. Further damage may be avoided by stopping the consumption of alcohol and maintaining a healthy diet. In some cases, medication will be prescribed. In certain cases your doctor will speak to you about the possibility of a liver transplant.
For more information about cirrhosis treatment please visit our Liver Therapies page.
For more information about nutrition and diet, please visit our Healthy Liver Diet page.
You can take some precautions to guard against cirrhosis. Controlling your consumption of alcohol, making healthy dietary choices, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting exposure to toxins, and taking precautions against hepatitis could prevent cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis is the ninth leading cause of death in the U.S. Cirrhosis causes approximately 1.2% (about 25,000) of deaths each year in the U.S. alone.