What is cirrhosis?
- Cirrhosis of the liver is a condition in which healthy tissue is replaced by scar tissue.
- This blocks the flow of blood through the liver, and prevents it from functioning as it should.
- As a result, wastes and toxins that the liver normally removes stay in the body and build up, causing damage and disease.
What can cause cirrhosis?
- The most common causes of cirrhosis in the U.S. are chronic alcoholism and viral hepatitis.
How can alcohol lead to cirrhosis?
- Alcohol injures the liver by blocking the normal metabolism of protein, fats and carbohydrates.
- Cirrhosis usually develops after more than a decade of drinking. The amount of alcohol that can cause harm in this way varies from person to person, and especially between the sexes.
- As few as two or three drinks a day has been linked with cirrhosis in women. In men, the level is around three or four drinks a day.
What about viral hepatitis?
- Viral hepatitis is the other main cause of liver cirrhosis. It's a blood-borne virus that spreads from person to person through sexual contact or contact with infected blood.
- Viral hepatitis causes inflammation of the liver and gradual low-grade damage.
- Over the course of several decades, this damage can lead to cirrhosis and eventually death.
How can I tell if I have cirrhosis?
- In the early stages of the disease there are no symptoms, but as it progresses symptoms include exhaustion, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, weakness, weight loss, abdominal pain and spider-like blood vessels that develop on the skin.
- Cirrhosis also causes numerous complications in the body: fluid can accumulate in the legs and abdomen, the skin can bruise easily, and the palms of the hands can become reddish or blotchy. Jaundice, a yellowing of the eyes and skin, can also occur.
- Toxins that the liver used to remove can build up in the brain, leading to confusion, irritation, lowered mental functioning and other problems.
- Diabetes and bacterial infections are some of the complications arising from cirrhosis. It can also lead to serious liver disease, cancer and death.
How can cirrhosis be avoided?
- If you're a drinker, cirrhosis is best prevented by drinking in moderation. Heavy drinkers should talk with their doctor about ways to quit drinking.
- Multiple sex partners and recreational drug injection are risk factors for viral hepatitis. Practicing good sexual habits and avoiding drug use are the best ways to prevent the disease.
- Though treatment for cirrhosis can delay or halt its progression, damage to the liver remains. The best way to stay healthy is avoid getting cirrhosis in the first place.