Cirrhosis is the
end result of a number of diseases of the liver, where normal cells are replaced
by scar tissue, leading to abnormalities in the liver's ability to handle drugs
and toxins. The livers main function is in digestion, where it metabolises
carbohydrates, fats and proteins from the broken down food and it produces bile
which contains a variety of enzymes and aids digestion. Cirrhosis is accompanied
by jaundice (yellowing of the skin), itching and fatigue.
- Excessive alcohol
- Viral liver
disease: Hepatitis B and C are associated with cirrhosis.
- Primary biliary
cirrhosis is a liver disease caused by an abnormality of the immune system,
which leads to a lack of bile production, resulting in decreased adsorption
of calcium and vitamin D.
- Primary sclerosing
cholangitis is a rare disease associated with ulcerative colitis, where bile
ducts are obstructed.
- Errors of metabolism
e.g. Haemochromatosis where an inherited disorder of enzyme production results
in the accumulation of iron to toxic levels in the liver, which damage tissue
and lead to cirrhosis.
- Autoimmune hepatitis
is where the immune system works against the liver.
- Other causes
include; an unusual reaction to drugs, chronic heart failure, exposure to
- Surgery to remove
gallstones may result sometimes inadvertently cause bile duct blockage, leading
are the symptoms of cirrhosis?
symptoms such as fatigue, weakness and loss of appetite.
- Stools which
are very light in colour, or bloodstained.
- Fluid accumulation
in the legs.
- Vomiting blood
and black tarry stool.
- Extreme sensitivity
to medications and alcohol.
- Intense itching.
- Jaundice (yellowing
of the skin and whites of the eye).
- Fever, nausea
- Abdominal pain.
- Bruising easily.
- Kidney failure.
is cirrhosis diagnosed?
- A physical examination
may indicate the disease.
- Evidence of
jaundice (yellowing of the skin).
- X-ray of the
liver may be taken.
- A biopsy may
be required, where a piece of the organ tissue is removed for examination.
- Various blood
tests, which can check for the presence of abnormal antibodies and copper,
elevated iron levels.
is cirrhosis treated?
- Treatment depends
on the stage of the disease.
- Avoid excessive
consumption of alcohol.
- Autoimmune hepatitis
requires immunosuppressive drugs.
- For haemochromatosis,
one pint of blood may be removed per week, to keep iron levels under control.
- Surgery may
be required to unblock an obstructed bile duct.
- If a virus is
responsible for liver damage, anti-viral treatment may be prescribed.
- The effects
of fluid accumulation can be reduced by avoiding salt in the diet.
- Drugs may be
prescribed to reduce swelling and itching.
- Dietary changes
may be helpful, such as decreasing protein and increasing fat-soluble vitamins.
- A liver transplant
may be required, in severe cases.
I prevent cirrhosis?
- The easiest
way to prevent it is to avoid excessive alcohol. Drink in moderation, not
exceeding 21 units of alcohol per week for a man or 14 units per week for
a woman. A unit of alcohol is one measure of spirits, one half pint of beer
or larger or one glass of wine.
- Eat a well balanced
- Consider taking
vitamin supplements only if your diet is restricted as the fat soluble vitamins
A,D,E&K which are dependent on liver metabolism can be harmful if taken
- Take the necessary
precautions when using chemicals at home, at work or in the garden, wear protective
gloves, goggles, mask & clothes, and open windows to avoid inhalation.
does the future hold?
This depends on
the stage and cause of cirrhosis. If damage is not too severe, the liver can
regenerate. Many people live for years with cirrhosis. Liver transplant has
a high success rate.
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