Just above the right upper abdomen, under the right lung is the largest internal organ of the body located. This organ is none other than the multi-functional liver. The liver is one organ that can perform multiple tasks in one time. The liver can produce cholesterol, make proteins, store and release glucose in form of energy, eliminate waste from the body and metabolise various toxins and medications in the body system. If that's not enough, liver function also includes production of bile through ducts and releasing it into the intestine, helping in digestion of food. And what makes this organ totally unique is its ability to regenerate itself when it is damaged or partially removed. However, with years of abuse especially in cases of alcoholics, the liver finally gives up. It can develop a condition called cirrhosis and cease some of its normal functions leading to havoc within the body.
What do we understand with cirrhosis?
The progressive scarring of the tissue in the liver that leads to scars on the normal tissues is called cirrhosis of the liver. This permanent damage or scarring of the liver leads to blockage of blood flow within the liver. The liver becomes distorted in shape, hardens and forms lumps. The blockage prevent the normal functioning of the liver like metabolism and regulation process leading to different health problems.
What are the causes of liver cirrhosis?
There are several liver cirrhosis causes that include either of the following:
- Chronic alcoholism
- Chronic viral infection by Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and D
- Wilson's disease (abnormal storage of copper)
- Hemochromatosis (abnormal storage of iron)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Autoimmune hepatitis
- Blocked bile ducts
- Toxic hepatitis caused by reaction to medications and toxins
- Alpha - 1 - antitrypsin deficiency
- Galactosemia and glycogen storage disorders
- Chronic heart failure with liver congestion
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Cryptogenic cirrhosis
The early stages of liver cirrhosis exhibit very few symptoms. However, some of the symptoms of the condition include:
As the disease progresses, the liver cirrhosis symptoms become more and more serious. Some of these signs and symptoms include edema, jaundice, itchy skin
, coagulation defects, spider naevi, gynaecomastia and mental disorders
Stages of liver cirrhosis
There are four liver cirrhosis stages that are seen in patients. The first two liver cirrhosis stages are placed into the compensated stage. There is gradual deterioration of the liver functions. The body starts compensating for its lack of functioning liver. This stage is almost impossible to detect and only a liver biopsy can help confirm damage to liver cells
. Next is the decompensated stage that includes both the 3rd and 4th liver cirrhosis stages. The liver is extensively damaged and this leads to life-threatening complications. The patient suffers from serious symptoms that may lead to coma.
Treatment is based on the type and cause of cirrhosis. Once the liver is extensively damaged, it cannot be reserved. However, proper liver cirrhosis treatment can help in putting a stop to further damage. Edema and ascites can be treated with diuretics that help in treatment of water retention. The deficiencies in the body can be overcome with the help of mineral and vitamin supplements. The patient maybe advised sugar based drinks to maintain the nutrition as well as energy levels. In case of constipation and reduction of toxic substances from the body, laxatives maybe advised. This will help prevent the toxins to reach the brain and cause confusion and coma.
Prognosis of patients with liver cirrhosis
The prognosis depends on the stage and cause of the condition. Usually, cirrhosis life expectancy is less than half of the expected normal life. Once affected by cirrhosis, the liver cannot become normal again. The best way to increase life expectancy is to curb the disease in its initial stages. Continued use of alcohol will lead to irreversible damage. In order to make the prognosis in an individual case look brighter, it is better to maintain an alcohol free healthy lifestyle.
If one is a chronic alcoholic or has suffered from chronic hepatitis, make sure you get your liver checked regularly for cirrhosis. The condition caught early on has better prognosis than the end stages. If you have any doubts, speak to your hepatologist regarding liver cirrhosis.