The liver is a large organ in the abdomen underneath the right rib cage, and it’s a vital part of the human body. It plays a significant role in the digestive and circulatory systems, helping to process both foods as well as chemicals that the body needs. When the liver becomes damaged, the consequences are felt throughout the body.

Cirrhosis of the Liver

Cirrhosis is a condition where the liver becomes fibrotic, or heavily scarred as a result of illness or injury. Hepatitis viruses, excessive alcohol consumption, fatty liver disease, and other disorders can injure the liver and result in cirrhosis. The liver becomes inflamed and damaged. Over time, the scar tissue forms nodules and cirrhosis.

The liver helps produce substances required by the body, like clotting and other important proteins; it removes toxic substances like drugs that can harm the body; it produces bile to aid in the digestion of food, and it regulates glucose and lipids that the body uses as fuel. A liver with cirrhosis can’t perform any of those functions adequately.

Risk Factors of Cirrhosis of the Liver

Patients with cirrhosis often have some risk factors associated with liver disease. Not all patients with these risk factors will develop cirrhosis, but it’s worth investigating if you have any of these risk factors:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Viral or chronic hepatitis
  • Fatty liver disease from any cause
  • Any other chronic liver disease, including autoimmune and inherited diseases
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having diabetes, prediabetes, or other conditions that affect how your body processes sugar
  • Having high triglycerides or high cholesterol
  • Exposure to toxins and other infections.
  • Taking certain medications.

Cirrhosis of the Liver Complications

The liver plays a role in many body systems and impacts many more because of its role in processing substances in the blood. As a result, a condition like cirrhosis of the liver may cause complications in the rest of the body. These are some of the more serious complications of cirrhosis:

  • Varices, which are enlarged veins. In patients with cirrhosis, these are usually in the esophagus (esophageal varices) or in the stomach (gastric varices).
  • Hepatic encephalopathy, a buildup of toxins in the brain.
  • Fluid accumulation in the ankles, legs, and feet (edema) or in the abdomen (ascites).
  • An enlargement of the spleen called splenomegaly.
  • Malnutrition from a number of digestive complications related to cirrhosis of the liver.
  • A serious infection called spontaneous bacterial peritonitis.
  • Kidney failure, also known as hepatorenal syndrome.
  • A lung complication called hepatopulmonary syndrome.
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a type of liver cancer that often occurs in patients with chronic liver diseases.

Cirrhosis of the Liver Symptoms

Most liver disease patients don’t experience any symptoms in the early stages. Fatigue can be common in the early stages of cirrhosis, but most symptoms don’t show up until later. Advanced cirrhosis is when complications develop and it becomes less likely that the damage can be undone, although the progression of the disease may be slowed or even halted with treatment. Some of the other common symptoms of liver disease and cirrhosis complications include:

  • Weakness
  • Muscle loss
  • Nausea and loss of appetite
  • Easy bruising
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and urine)
  • Itching
  • Weight loss

Diagnosing and Treating Cirrhosis of the Liver

There are several methods for diagnosing cirrhosis. It is sometimes diagnosed by imaging tests that look for a nodular (shrunken) liver appearance: CT scans, ultrasounds, and MRIs can all be used. FibroScan can also be used in cirrhosis diagnosis and for learning more about a patient’s liver disease stage. A patient’s health history, a physical examination, or certain blood tests can also suggest a cirrhosis diagnosis. Cirrhosis can also be diagnosed or confirmed by a liver biopsy, but this test is often unnecessary.

Treatment for cirrhosis is designed to prevent further liver damage, treat the complications, and prevent or detect liver cancer. Your gastroenterologist may prescribe upper endoscopies for screening purposes. Cirrhosis patients should be screened for liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, in particular, every six to twelve months at a minimum and tested further if a lesion is seen. Liver transplantation could be a viable treatment option for some patients, but some patients aren’t good candidates for surgery—this is a decision that your healthcare team can help you make. Finally, there might be experimental cirrhosis treatment options available for some patients. Arizona Liver Health is engaged in clinical trials to discover treatments for many liver diseases and conditions, which can give patients state-of-the-art care options.

Cirrhosis of the Liver Prevention

Preventing cirrhosis centers around treating the underlying cause of liver disease. It is often possible to slow, stop or even reverse liver damage prior to the development of advanced liver disease.

  • Treatment for alcohol abuse. People with liver disease caused by excessive alcohol use should try to stop drinking and seek help from their doctor if stopping alcohol is difficult. If you have liver disease from any cause, it is important to stop drinking completely since any amount of alcohol is toxic to the damaged liver.
  • Weight loss. People with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease who are overweight may become healthier if they lose weight and control their blood sugar levels. Eating a diet low in sugar and processed carbohydrates can help reverse fat and associated scarring in the liver.
  • Medications to prevent or treat hepatitis. Medications may limit further liver damage caused by hepatitis B or C through specific treatment of these viruses. Medications for both Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C now have few if any side effects and are very effective. Vaccination for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B is recommended for all patients with liver disease.
  • Medications to control other causes of liver disease and symptoms of cirrhosis. Early diagnosis and treatment of other liver diseases, such as autoimmune or inherited liver diseases, can delay progression or control of the symptoms of complications if the liver disease is advanced. Various medications can help with relieving symptoms which are sometimes associated with liver disease, such as itching, fatigue, and swelling.

Arizona Help for Cirrhosis of the Liver

Cirrhosis is a life-changing condition, but early detection and treatment can limit and sometimes reverse further damage. Arizona Liver Health can help patients receive better outcomes and liver disease treatments. Patients receive compassionate and state-of-the-art care from our Chandler, Peoria, and Tucson clinic locations. Arizona Liver Health works closely with other healthcare providers to implement care recommendations and keep everyone on the same page. To refer a patient or schedule an appointment, call 480-470-4000 or fill out an online contact form.