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Cirrhosis

A functioning liver is necessary for survival.  The liver plays an important role in metabolism, as it makes proteins that help to clot blood, removes wastes the kidney cannot and indirectly helps to digest food by creating bile.

Cirrhosis is a medical condition where progressive accumulation of non-functional scar tissue in the liver replaces much of the functioning liver.  This happens when the liver cannot regenerate its own cells due to severe injury or a long-lasting injury.  This situation also creates especially high blood pressure in the blood vessels that are linked to the liver.  

While chronic Hepatitis C, alcohol-related liver disease and advanced fatty liver disease are the most common causes of cirrhosis, there are many causes.

Symptoms of cirrhosis are:

  • Feeling tired and weak

  • Severe itching

  • Swelling in the lower legs or abdomen

  • Yellow skin, and whites of eyes

  • Bruise easy, bleed easy

  • Spider-like spots of tiny red blood vessels on the skin of the chest and upper back

In the early stages it may be possible to stop further damage by treating the cause.  Nothing will make the scar tissue disappear but treating the cause can halt it and help it from getting worse.

Treatments depend on the cause as listed below:

 

  • Treatment for alcohol dependency:  Since any amount of alcohol is toxic to the liver, it is necessary to stop consuming alcohol.  A treatment program may be helpful.

  • Treatment for Non-alcoholic fatty liver:  Losing weight and controlling blood sugar levels.

  • Treatment for Hepatitis B or C:  Medications for specific treatment of virus to get rid of it completely in Hepatitis C; in the case of Hepatitis B, a more realistic goal is to get the virus to stop efficiently making copies of itself and getting the patient into a “carrier state.”

  • Treatment for other causes:  There are medications available to slow the progression of cirrhosis.

  • Treatment of advanced cirrhosis: Liver transplantation, which in some cases can be done from a piece of liver from a healthy, willing, qualifying donor.