Cirrhosis of the liver is expected at the terminal stages of chronic liver disease. The severe scarring present in cirrhosis is usually the result of long-term exposure to toxins like alcohol or viral infections. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), cirrhosis is the 12th leading cause of death due to its disease. Let’s learn more about the liver’s cirrhosis symptoms and what you can do to prevent and treat this chronic disease.
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What is Cirrhosis?
Cirrhosis is a condition that causes scar tissue to replace healthy liver cells. As a chronic disease, it happens over a long time, often resulting from an infection or alcohol addiction. Because cirrhosis is somewhat of a silent disease, most people don’t notice the symptoms until it’s too late.
The liver plays essential bodily functions such as filtering out toxins, making enzymes that help digest food, store sugar and nutrients, and enables you to fight infections. However, the liver also can repair itself by forming scar tissue. The problem arises when too much scar tissue builds up and disables the liver’s function.
Cirrhosis happens when factors that damage the liver, like alcohol or chronic viral infections, are present over a long period. When the liver becomes too scarred, it can’t function properly, ultimately resulting in liver failure.
The most common cause of cirrhosis is long-term viral hepatitis C infection and chronic alcohol abuse. Obesity is also a common cause, but it isn’t as prevalent as alcoholism and hepatitis. Overall, the three main things that can lead to cirrhosis include:
- Heavy drinking due to alcohol addiction
- Long-term autoimmune hepatitis b or hepatitis C
Also, certain conditions increase someone’s risk of developing cirrhosis, including:
- Cystic fibrosis
- Autoimmune diseases
- Digestive disorders.
- Syphilis and brucellosis
- Medications like acetaminophen and antibiotics
- Diseases that affect your body’s ability to process sugars, like diabetes
- Blockage of the bile duct
- Too much iron buildup in the body
- Wilson’s disease, when people store too much copper in the liver.
The biggest issue of cirrhosis is that people don’t notice the early signs most of the time. Cirrhosis is diagnosed with a blood test, checking your medical history, and analyzing the risk factors linked to liver damage. Once the liver cannot purify the blood, break down toxins, and help with vitamin absorption, symptoms will become noticeable. Unfortunately, most people don’t experience symptoms until the disorder has progressed. The most common symptoms include:
- Decreased appetite
- Nose bleeds
- Yellow discoloration of the skin (jaundice)
- Small spider-shaped arteries underneath the skin
- Weight loss
- Itchy skin
- Whitening of the nails
- Redness in the palms
Additionally, more severe symptoms include:
- Abdominal swelling
- Gynecomastia (male breast tissue)
- Vomiting blood
- Severe muscle cramps
- Brownish urine
- Enlarged spleen
- Bone disease
Cirrhosis itself is already an advanced stage of liver damage. When most people discover liver issues, the scar tissue cannot heal, but it can still be managed or slowed down. The stages of cirrhosis are as follow:
Stage 1: some scarring of the liver is noticeable, but no symptoms. Also known as compensated cirrhosis, where there are no complications.
Stage 2: involves worsening portal hypertension and the development of varicose veins.
Stage 3: advanced liver scarring is present, as well as swelling in the abdomen. This stage marks decompensated cirrhosis, which is a severe complication and indicates possible liver failure.
Stage 4: Finally, this last stage can be life-threatening. Full liver failure is possible by this stage, and people might need a liver transplant to survive.
Treatment for cirrhosis will depend on the liver’s stage and the causes of cirrhosis. For example, if a doctor can trace back the cause to alcoholism, seeking alcohol abuse treatment will help manage the condition. Also, your doctor might recommend various remedies to treat the side effects and consequences of cirrhosis.
Usually, the first step is to make sure you’re doing everything possible to slow down the progression of the disease, and that means:
- Stop drinking alcohol immediately and checking into a treatment program for addiction.
- Eating healthy and adopting healthy lifestyle habits to lose weight and control obesity.
- Take medications to manage hepatitis B or C.
In addition, to prevent other consequences of cirrhosis of the liver, doctors usually recommend:
- Following a low-sodium diet to control swelling.
- Taking blood pressure medications to lessen bleeding inside the body.
- Treating and preventing other infections with antibiotics or vaccinations.
- Performing hemodialysis to help purify the blood in those with kidney failure.
Finally, if someone struggles with stage 4 cirrhosis, the only solution might be a liver transplant. This can also be the last resource when other treatments fail to control the condition.
In reality, damage to the liver can rarely be undone. However, the liver tissue is so resilient that it can still work, even if two-thirds of it is destroyed or removed. Most people with cirrhosis that’s caught in the early stages can still live a healthy life.
Eventually, to manage cirrhosis effectively, you have to stop drinking, start losing weight, and control your blood sugar. All of these lifestyle changes can lessen the damage of fatty liver disease.
Getting Help for Alcohol Abuse
Most people need to seek help from rehab facilities to find the right treatment. Treating alcohol withdrawal and addiction will depend on the severity of their addiction. Then, a specialist might recommend either an inpatient or outpatient setting. Other modalities will include individual counseling and support groups to encourage recovery.
- Inpatient Programs: These offer a temptation-free environment that’s designed to help people in recovery. In this case, people check into a living drug rehab facility, and they attend meetings and therapy sessions while remaining in a supervised environment.
- Outpatient Programs: For those with a mild addiction, an outpatient rehab program might be an option. In this case, they have a more flexible program that allows them to maintain their daily schedules and responsibilities like attending school, work, or caring for their families.
- Aftercare Programs: Addiction isn’t one thing people can shove under the rug. The remnants of addiction often stay with them for the rest of their life. To help users find happiness and purpose in their lives, aftercare programs offer relapse prevention classes, life skills, and other essential tools for a successful life after treatment.
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol use disorder, don’t wait any longer. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we believe in offering customized alcohol addiction treatment plans for those struggling with alcohol abuse. On a case-by-case basis, we look at each program to cater to your needs, get better, and walk towards recovery. From detoxification programs to group meetings and more, everyone in our team is committed to helping you win the struggle with addiction.