What is Cirrhosis of the Liver?
Cirrhosis of the liver is a condition in which your liver is scarred and permanently damaged. The scarring can lead to liver failure.
According to the CDC, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis is the 9th leading cause of death in the United States. The most common causes of cirrhosis are nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, alcohol abuse, and viral hepatitis.
We cannot live without a functioning liver. The liver filters toxins from the blood and stores essential vitamins and minerals. Fortunately, the liver is a resilient organ. If cirrhosis is diagnosed early and the underlying cause is treated, liver failure may be prevented. In some cases, the liver may at least partially heal itself.
Stages of Cirrhosis
Doctors determine the severity of cirrhosis based on whether complications of liver disease (decompensation) have occurred.
Cirrhosis is considered a late-stage result of liver disease. If you’ve been diagnosed with cirrhosis, your liver has scar tissue and is already damaged.
For cirrhosis, physicians may use the following two classifications:
- Compensated cirrhosis. People in this stage of cirrhosis are asymptomatic. A liver biopsy may be the only way to confirm a cirrhosis diagnosis. The median survival rate at this stage is around 12 years.
- Decompensated cirrhosis. In this stage, people begin exhibiting symptoms and develop complications such as jaundice, variceal bleeding, ascites, hepatic encephalopathy, hepatorenal syndrome, and/or liver cancer. Patients often require hospital care, and the median survival rate drops to approximately 2 years.
Signs & Symptoms of Cirrhosis of the Liver
Cirrhosis liver symptoms depend on how far the disease has progressed. In the earliest stages, you may not experience any symptoms at all.
Early symptoms of cirrhosis can include:
- Decreased appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Mild abdominal discomfort
Symptoms of later-stage cirrhosis can include:
- Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Swelling (edema) of the feet, ankles, or legs
- Itchy skin
- Fluid build-up (ascites) in your abdomen
- Darker urine
- Memory loss, confusion, and difficulty concentrating
- Personality changes
- Redness in the palms of the hands
- Spider-vein vessels on the skin
Contact your doctor if you are experiencing any of the above cirrhosis symptoms. They can help diagnose cirrhosis and develop a treatment plan for proper liver function.
What Causes Cirrhosis?
Cirrhosis of the liver can be caused by an array of diseases and conditions. The most common causes are:
Less common causes of cirrhosis include:
- Autoimmune hepatitis. Your own immune system attacks healthy liver tissue.
- Diseases that affect the bile ducts, including primary biliary cholangitis, primary sclerosing cholangitis, and biliary atresia.
- Inherited diseases, including Alpha-1 antitrypsin, hemochromatosis, Wilson disease, cystic fibrosis, and glycogen storage diseases.
- Chronic heart failure can cause liver damage from congestion.
Certain behaviors and health conditions can raise your chances of developing cirrhosis of the liver. Some risk factors include:
- Excessive alcohol consumption. Drinking too much alcohol can damage the liver directly and cause fat and inflammation to develop, which can lead to cirrhosis.
- Obesity and diabetes. These 2 conditions increase the risk of developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which can lead to cirrhosis.
Symptoms of cirrhosis develop over the years, so some complications from the disease may be the first sign of the disease. Complications from cirrhosis can include:
- Portal hypertension. This arises because of higher resistance to blood flow through the portal vein. Complications of portal hypertension include bleeding from varices (usually from the esophagus or stomach), hepatic encephalopathy (confusion), and/or ascites (fluid retention).
- Hypersplenism. The spleen can become and enlarged, and can remove blood cells too quickly from the blood stream.
- Malnutrition. A damaged liver can’t properly process the nutrients your body needs, and can increase muscle breakdown, leading to general weakness and weight loss.
- Infections. Cirrhosis may weaken the body’s ability to fight off serious infections.
- Bone disease. A damaged liver can cause some people to lose bone strength and are at greater risk for fractures.
- Liver cancer. Cirrhosis increases the risk of developing liver cancer.
- Liver failure. Cirrhosis can cause the liver to no longer be able to perform its functions. A liver transplant evaluation should be considered.
The best thing you can do to prevent cirrhosis is to take care of your liver. This includes adopting healthy lifestyle choices and avoiding high-risk behavior that can lead to developing the condition.
To prevent cirrhosis of the liver:
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Drink alcohol in moderation. Consuming more than one drink a day if you’re a woman, and more two drinks if you’re a man, can increase your risk. If you have cirrhosis, you should avoid alcohol completely.
- Eat healthy. A diet high in fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can help keep your liver in good shape.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Excess body fat can be damaging to your liver.
- Avoid high-risk behaviors for hepatitis. One of the main causes of cirrhosis is hepatitis B and C. Use protection when having sex and don’t share needles for drug use.
Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Cirrhosis Care
NewYork-Presbyterian houses some of the nation’s top experts in liver care. Early detection of cirrhosis can be life-saving. Our compassionate teams of physicians are familiar with the signs and symptoms of the disease. They will work with you to develop a treatment plan that includes maintaining habits to stop further damage to your liver.
Contact NewYork-Presbyterian for the best in the battle against cirrhosis for an appointment.