Can you live with cirrhosis for 20 years?
Cirrhosis of the liver
What is cirrhosis of the liver?
Liver cirrhosis is often the end-stage of an existing liver disease. The liver shrinks and scars, so that its function is increasingly restricted.
There are many possible causes of cirrhosis of the liver, the most common of which are hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), fatty liver and long-term heavy alcohol consumption. Various examinations may be necessary for the diagnosis, which aim to find the cause of the damage and to measure the remaining liver function.
Treatment targets the underlying cause and preventing further damage to the liver. It is important to completely avoid alcohol and to pay attention to a diet low in protein. There is no cure for cirrhosis of the liver, but good treatment can slow the scarring process and stop the disease from progressing.
Cirrhosis of the liver occurs when a protracted illness causes the liver to form scar tissue. This scar tissue replaces the normal, healthy liver, making it less effective.
The liver has many Functions:
- it breaks down many of the substances we ingest (such as alcohol and some medications),
- it produces substances for digestion (bile) and proteins for blood clotting and
- stores sugar as a future source of energy.
To the most common causes cirrhosis of the liver include:
- long-term, excessive alcohol consumption as well
- prolonged inflammation of the liver caused by hepatitis B or C viruses.
Other causes include inflammation caused by autoimmune diseases, where the immune system attacks the liver or bile ducts. A strong accumulation of iron (hemochromatosis) or fat (fatty liver) in the liver can also be the cause, as can some liver-damaging drugs.
Liver cirrhosis is very common and mostly affects older adults with the previous illnesses mentioned above. Obesity is also a risk factor.
Symptoms of cirrhosis of the liver
To the typical symptoms counting:
- itchy skin,
- Muscle tremors (tremor),
- Loss of appetite,
- Weight loss,
- Muscular dystrophy,
- yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- small spider-like blood vessels on the skin
- and swelling of the legs and abdomen.
As the disease progresses, people can become confused, forgetful, and sleepy. The symptoms of cirrhosis of the liver occur when the liver is so scarred that blood can no longer flow freely through it and its function is restricted. For this reason, symptoms do not show up until the later stages of cirrhosis.
If you are unsure whether these symptoms apply to you, start a symptom analysis.
The diagnosis is made by a doctor who will evaluate symptoms, do a physical exam, and do a blood test to check how well your liver is working and identify possible underlying causes, such as the hepatitis virus or signs of inflammation in the body.
In many cases, an ultrasound or a CT scan of the liver is also necessary. In some cases, a small sample of the liver (biopsy) may be taken to determine the underlying cause.
Treatment depends on the cause of the cirrhosis and the stage of liver damage at the time of diagnosis. If the underlying cause is known, it should be treated or brought under control.
Common methods of treatmentthat aim to reduce the symptoms are:
- a reduction in alcohol consumption,
- taking lactulose (a sugar that cannot be broken down by the body)
- and a low-protein diet.
Other measures may be needed to find or treat complications. The last resort in the event of total liver failure is a liver transplant.
There is no cure for cirrhosis of the liver. However, with appropriate treatment, progression can be slowed or stopped.
In many cases, moderate alcohol consumption or prevention of hepatitis B or C infection can help prevent this condition. It is also helpful to maintain a healthy weight.
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