Cirrhosis is a condition of the liver where the healthy liver cells are gradually replaced by scar tissue. Cirrhosis is a progressive disease and intensifies with time. Cirrhosis can occur due to several health conditions and diseases including infection, hepatitis and alcohol addiction.
The liver in the human body is about the size of a football and is very critical to the overall health of a person. The liver removes the toxins from blood, produces enzymes that help to digest food, stores sugar and nutrients, as well as helps to effectively avoid infections. Every time the liver is hurt or injured due to a disease, excessive alcohol consumption or otherwise – it produces scar tissue to repair itself. When the liver is hurt or injured repeatedly it causes production of excessive scar tissue which then creates problems in efficient functioning of the liver. Long-term continuous damage to the liver is the prime cause of development of cirrhosis. The excessive scar tissue replaces the healthy cells in the liver, thereby blocking blood flow through the liver.
The damaged caused to the liver due to cirrhosis cannot be undone; however, the impact of the problem can be reduced if it is detected early on and the problem is treated effectively. If not detected and treated timely, cirrhosis can develop into advanced stages which can be life-threatening.
Symptoms of Cirrhosis
A person might not experience any symptoms until the damage to the liver has crossed a certain level. In most cases, cirrhosis does not produce any symptoms until very late stages. However, some symptoms and signs that one must look out for include:
- Chronic fatigue and weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Easy bruising and bleeding
- Swollen legs and feet
- Intense Itchy and red skin
- Whitening of the nails
- Jaundice causing paleness in eyes and skin
- Accumulation of abdominal fluid
- Spider blood vessels on the skin
- Redness and patches in the palms of the hands
- Skipped or irregular periods
- Lack of interest in sex in men
- Enlargement of breast in men
- Shrinkage in testicles in men
- Extreme confusion and dizziness
- Slurred speech
- Concentration problem or memory issues
Some other symptoms that can be witnessed which indicate a higher stage of cirrhosis include:
- Vomiting of blood
- Chronic muscle cramps
- Foul-smelling, brownish urine
- Sudden and consistent fever
- Enlarged spleen
- Bone fragility
- Accelerated heartbeat
- Bleeding gums
- Excessive hair loss
- Bleeding from nose
- Mobility issues
However, a person suffering from cirrhosis might not experience all these symptoms. They can vary per case. Also, the presence of these symptoms does not necessarily imply cirrhosis until confirmed via a medical examination; the symptoms can also indicate another health condition in some cases.
Causes of Cirrhosis
The damage to liver – which leads to production of excessive scar tissue and then replacement of healthy cells with scar tissue – is not caused overnight or in a short period of time. Consistent and prolonged damage to liver – leading to excessive production of scar tissue and improper liver functioning – happens over a long period of time, causing cirrhosis. Some of the major causes the increase the chances of a person being affected by cirrhosis are:
- Excessive and consistent alcohol consumption
- Prolonged consumption of tobacco products
- Recurring or prolonged Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C infection
- Fatty liver problem
- Toxic metals
Alcohol consumption and hepatitis infection are the leading causes of cirrhosis. Per studies, women who drink more than two alcoholic drinks in a day consistently for years are at more risk for cirrhosis. Also, men who drink more than three drinks per day (including wine and beer) are more likely to be affected by cirrhosis than others. Cirrhosis is caused due to regular drinking of heavy amount of alcohol.
That said, some other causes of cirrhosis include:
- Hepatitis D can also cause cirrhosis; this is present in people who have Hepatitis B
- Autoimmune diseases which tend to cause inflammation in the body; autoimmune hepatitis can be due to genetics. These diseases tend to attack the healthy liver cells.
- Damaged bile ducts leading to ineffective drainage of bile and causing blockage
- Conditions that cause inability to manage the iron and copper level in the body (such as Wilson’s disease)
- Certain medications
- Cystic fibrosis
- Body disorders that lead to inefficient processing of sugar
- Genetic digestive problems
- Infections such as syphilis and brucellosis
- Reaction to medication
While it is important to know the causes and symptoms of cirrhosis, it is also critical to understand the cirrhosis may not be caught unless it starts producing symptoms, which happens when the stage has already advanced. However, one way which can help diagnose cirrhosis early on is – routine medical check-ups that involves assessing your liver functioning and checking for tenderness or change in size of liver. Based on medical history, lifestyle habits and patterns, the doctor might conduct a blood test to confirm the analysis and initiate treatment, if needed.