Liver Cirrhosis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Damages to the liver can occur in various forms & due to various reasons like excessive Alcohol consumption, drug abuse, etc. Liver Cirrhosis is one of the commonest disease of the liver that occurs in our environment.

What is Liver Cirrhosis

Liver cirrhosis is a medical condition of the liver that occurs when useless fibrous tissues replaces liver tissue. When these occurs, these useless tissue cannot perform the functions of the liver, and the affected person would start having the symptoms of liver disease.

In a simple way, liver cirrhosis is a condition that occurs due to repeated damage to the cells of the liver. This repeated damages leads to the liver tissues attempting to heal themselves. They do this by scar formation (just like on the skin, except this is the liver).
These scars that are produced gradually and steadily replace normal & healthy liver cells. When this happens, these cells would not be able to do the function of the liver.

Liver Cirrhosis and Liver Cancer
Image showing a Healthy liver, Liver with fibrosis, Cirrhosis and Carcinoma. Image Credit: Labiotech

The liver is an organ of the body, located in your abdomen (where you would call tummy), that helps you to remove all the poisons or toxins from the drugs & alcohol we consume, also helps in fighting infections, and produces enzymes that helps food digestion.

The liver repairs itself when it gets damaged by forming tough scar tissues. Too much scar tissues makes the organ not to work properly. When the liver cells has been replaced with too much scar tissues, we call the condition, Liver Cirrhosis.

Causes of Liver Cirrhosis

There are a number of things that can cause liver cirrhosis. Generally, anything that can damage the liver cells, can lead to cirrhosis. The most common causes includes;

  • Drinking alcohol for a long time: Excessive alcohol consumption has been known to damage liver cells over a long period of time. They can lead to a number of diseases of the liver like: Alcohol-induced hepatitis, Alcohol-induced Fatty liver disease, among others.
  • Viral infections such as hepatitis B & Hepatitis C: These are infections that particularly attack liver cells. They are easily transmitted from one person to another through blood transfusions, sharing sharp instruments, like during manicures, tattoo, etc. This infections have no cure yet, hence it is best to prevent it. You can read more about Hepatitis here.
  • Drugs/Medications: Drug abuse or overdose is a common cause of liver damage. Like i mentioned above, it is the liver that removes all the drugs consumed from the body. Excess of these drugs can become poisonous to the liver cells, and damage the liver. You can read about drug over dose here.

Other causes include;

  • Autoimmune diseases: which are type of disorders, that occurs where the body attack liver cells.
  • Haemosiderosis: Too much iron buildup in the body.
  • Wilson’s disease: where there is too much deposition of copper in the liver cells.
    Among other causes.

Symptoms of Liver Cirrhosis

A person with liver cirrhosis may notice the following as the damage to the liver gets worse;

  1. Yellowing of the eyes called jaundice
  2. Swelling of the abdomen
  3. Breast development in males
  4. Redness in the palms of your hands or whitening of your nails.
  5. A visible network of dilated veins surrounding the navel. (This is called caput medusa)
  6. Spider web-like blood vessels in your skin.

Please note that you may not get all the symptoms and some of these symptoms can also occur with other type of diseases apart from liver cirrhosis.

Treatment of Liver Cirrhosis

Once the damage has occurred to the liver, it cannot be undone. Hence, the treatment for liver cirrhosis is to protect the healthy liver cells that is still left. To do this;

  1. Stop drinking alcohol
  2. Test for Hepatitis and see a doctor if positive to obtain prescription for hepatitis B or C.

Your doctor may also have to treat other complications that the damaged liver cells have caused.

If your liver fails entirely, a liver transplant may be the only available solution, and this is hard to find, especially in our environment.

Prevention of Liver Cirrhosis

A healthy lifestyle is important in prevention of cirrhosis. Hence,

  • If you must drink alcohol, be moderate about it. Talk to a doctor about the number of drinks that will be moderate for you.
  • Avoid risky behaviours that will lead to hepatitis B and C infection such as unprotected sexual intercourse, sharing needles, using illicit drugs, etc.

Remember, prevention is better than cure!

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Authors

  • Aniagu Ndidi Victoria attended the College of Medicine, university of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, UNTH in Ituku Ozalla, Enugu State Nigeria.

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