Cirrhosis of the Liver
Cirrhosis, at its most basic, is the scarring of the liver. In turn, this scarring leads to reduced liver functions. Considering the liver is involved in almost every major function of our bodies, cirrhosis is extremely dangerous.
While cirrhosis of the liver is often thought to be a disease in and of itself, it’s not. Rather, it’s a condition brought on by various other liver diseases. These include: Hepatitis C and B, alcoholic liver disease (ALD), non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), Cystic Fibrosis, Galactosemia, Wilson’s Disease, and others.
Rarely, cirrhosis of the liver can occur without any known cause. This is referred to as idiopathic cirrhosis.
Clocking in at a frightening 30%, Hepatitis B is the leading cause of cirrhosis of the liver. Hepatitis C is the second leading cause at 27%. Alcoholic liver disease comes in third.
The liver is “attacked” by the above diseases and builds up layers of fibrosis (scar tissue) and nodules (lumps of damaged tissue). These slow the functions of the liver and result in various cirrhosis symptoms.
Cirrhosis symptoms vary in range from mild to severe. Still, it’s generally agreed that all cirrhosis symptoms are bad.
Find common cirrhosis symptoms below:
• Ascites – an accumulation of fluid leading to a distended abdomen. This is the most common symptom of cirrhosis of the liver.
• Gynecomastia – an increase in men’s breast gland size.
• Changes in liver size – often, patients with cirrhosis of the liver have enlarged or shrunken livers.
• Hypogonadism – a decrease in sex hormones. Often manifests as a loss of sex drive, impotence, or infertility.
• Jaundice – a yellow discoloration of the skin.
• Hepatic encephalopathy – cirrhosis of the liver can cause the liver to stop removing ammonia from the blood. This leads to unresponsiveness, forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, and changes in sleep patterns.
• Kidney Failure – perhaps the most dangerous symptom of cirrhosis of the liver.
Having examined various cirrhosis symptoms, let’s turn our attention to alcoholic cirrhosis.
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As mentioned above, alcoholic liver disease is a large cause of cirrhosis of the liver. In fact, alcoholic cirrhosis is thought to account for 20% of all cases. That’s a pretty large number, which, in human terms, means a lot of people are walking around with alcoholic cirrhosis.
Chronic alcoholism (defined here as over a decade of heavy drinking) leads to a reduction in the liver’s ability to metabolize protein, fats, and carbohydrates, and a build up of acetaldehyde. In turn, these lead to more stress on the liver, reduced functioning, and fibrosis.
Does alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver differ from other forms? Well, in most ways, it doesn’t. Alcoholic cirrhosis does, however, bring with it dangerous environmental factors. Simply put, individuals who’re drinking heavily aren’t likely to take care of themselves. They often have poor diets and may be resistant to medical treatment. Alcoholics are also known to engage in dangerous behavior while dunk, which can put more stress on the body and liver.
Alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver also accounts for a large number of deaths. In the United States, approximately 40%, or two of every five, cirrhosis related deaths are linked to alcohol use.
Cirrhosis of the liver can, broadly speaking, be broken down into four stages. These are referred to as the cirrhosis stages. Find them below:
• Cirrhosis Stage #1
This stage consists of swelling and inflammation of the liver. There may be abnormal connective tissue growth. In this first stage of cirrhosis, inflammation and abnormal growth are limited the area of the liver around the hepatic artery and vein, also known as the portal area.
• Cirrhosis Stage #2
This stage is similar to the first, but also involves the fibrosis.
• Cirrhosis Stage #3 –
The third stage of cirrhosis of the liver consists of advanced fibrosis and is sometimes called bridging fibrosis. In this stage, the fibrosis has begun to form bridges between the hepatic artery and vein and other areas. This makes it significantly harder for the liver to do its job. It also raises blood pressure, resulting in hepatic hypertension.
• Cirrhosis Stage #4 –
This stage consists of fibrosis and nodules significantly impairing liver functions. This is also the stage at which most cirrhosis symptoms begin to appear. At this stage, a liver transplant is recommended.