Cirrhosis of the Liver

General Illness Information


Common Name:

Cirrhosis of the liver

Medical Term: None Specified.

Description: Pathological process characterized by liver fibrosis (scarring), and nodular liver cell regeneration.  Leads to loss of normal liver function. Third leading cause of death in individuals aged 45-60 years old. Regardless of cause, the basic process is the same: inflammation of liver, followed by destruction of liver cells, cell regeneration and scarring.

Causes: Possible causes of Cirrhosis of the Liver include:

  • Alcohol;
  • Certain medications (e.g. Aldomet, Methotrexate);
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals (eg.Trichloroethylene);
  • Infections-Chronic hepatitis B, C, congenital syphilis;
  • Cholestatic liver disease (bile duct obstruction);
  • Metabolic disorders (e.g. haemochromatosis, Wilson’s disease);
  • Venous obstruction (e.g. Chronic right heart failure);
  • Autoimmune diseases (including autoimmune chronic hepatitis);
  • Sarcoidosis;
  • Budd-Chiari syndrome (persistent obstruction to outflow of blood from the liver);
  • Glycogen storage disease;
  • Diabetes;
  • Malnutrition.

Prevention: Obtain treatment for alcoholism.  Obtain prompt medical treatment for hepatitis.  Survey your work environment for possible exposure to toxic chemicals.

Signs & Symptoms

Early stages:

  • Fatigue; weakness;
  • Enlarged liver;
  • Poor appetite; nausea; weight loss;
  • Red palms.

Late stages:

  • Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes);
  • Dark yellow or brown urine;
  • Spider blood vessels of the skin (fine vessels which spread out from a central point);
  • Hair loss;
  • Breast enlargement in men;
  • Enlarged spleen;
  • Fluid accumulation in the abdomen and legs;
  • Bleeding and bruising;
  • Diarrhea; stool may be black or bloody;
  • Mental confusion.

Risk Factors

  • Excess alcohol consumption. Individuals vary widely in the amount and duration of alcohol consumption necessary to cause cirrhosis;
  • Occupational exposure to chemicals toxic to liver;
  • Hepatitis;
  • Poor nutrition.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Ultrasound may show an enlarged liver. Liver scan with a radioactive isotope will show areas of the liver that are functioning and those areas that are scarred.  Blood test to check liver function tests and to determine the cause of cirrhosis.  Liver biopsy- for definitive diagnosis.

General Measures:

  • There is no cure for cirrhosis. Treatment is supportive – includes withdrawing toxic agents, proper nutrition, supplemental vitamins and treatment of complications as they arise;
  • If cirrhosis is caused by alcoholism, stop drinking. Ask for help from family, friends, and community agencies. Contact an Alcoholics Anonymous group in your community;
  • Additional information is available from the American Liver Foundation, 1425 Pompton Ave., Cedar Grove, NC 07009, (201)256-2550, or the Canadian Liver Foundation.

Medications:

  • Treatment for hepatitis B or C may be possible- with the newer medications;
  • Iron supplements for anemia resulting from hemorrhage or poor nutrition;
  • Diuretics to reduce fluid retention;
  • Antibiotics, such as neomycin, to reduce ammonia buildup;
  • Stool softeners.

Activity:

Maintain as active a life as possible. Elevate swollen feet and legs when resting.

Diet:

  • In the early stages, eat a well-balanced diet that is high in carbohydrates, high in protein and low in salt;
  • Late stages may require protein reduction;
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements may be necessary;
  • Don’t drink alcohol.

Possible Complications :

  • Life-threatening hemorrhage, especially from the esophagus and stomach;
  • Liver cancer;
  • Body poisoning and coma from build-up of ammonia and other body waste;
  • Sexual impotence.

Prognosis

Cirrhosis can be arrested if the underlying cause can be removed. Liver damage is irreversible, but symptoms can be relieved or controlled. A near-normal life is possible if treated early and treatment succeeds. If the underlying cause is not removed, liver scarring will continue, resulting in death from liver failure.

Other

Nothing specified.

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