What Is Cirrhosis?
About 10 lakh new patients are diagnosed with Liver Cirrhosis every year in India. It has become one of the leading causes of deaths in our country.
Liver can suffer damage due to diseases, or some lifestyle conditions. For example, hepatitis, some parasites, and alcoholism can damage liver tissue. A normal liver has the ability to heal itself. Every time the liver gets injured, it tries to heal itself. Over time however, inflammation in the liver results in scarring and permanent damage called cirrhosis. At the point of cirrhosis, the liver is unable to heal itself.
At the point of Cirrhosis, liver’s functioning is severely hampered due to the damage caused. The damage results in the liver tissue getting scarred (fibrosis) – and unfortunately, there usually are no early signs. This build-up of scar tissue makes the liver lumpy and hard, making it difficult for blood to pass through the portal vein, in turn affecting the functioning of the liver. This scarring of the liver tissue is irreversible.
Since Liver plays a vital role in the cleansing of our body - detoxifying harmful substances, cleansing blood, and producing vital nutrients – such severe hampering of the liver can even be fatal. Early diagnosis can help in taking corrective measures. It’s therefore very important to understand Cirrhosis, what causes it, symptoms, and what precautions one can take.
What could lead to Cirrhosis?
- Chronic Alcohol Abuse
- Certain medications such as methotrexate can cause Cirrhosis, if taken over a long period of time
- Accumulation of fat in liver (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease)
- Toxic metals such as - iron and copper - that accumulate in the liver as a result of genetic diseases
- Viral Hepatitis (Hepatitis B, C, and D)
- Ascites (fluid retention in the abdominal cavity)
- Hepatic encephalopathy (confusion and coma)
- Bleeding from oesophageal varices
- Autoimmune Hepatitis (Immune system breaks down and attack the liver)
- Bile duct disease or damage (Can be caused due to Gallstones and cystic fibrosis)
What are the types of Cirrhosis?
Compensated and decompensated are the two predominant types of Cirrhosis.
Compensated Cirrhosis rarely causes any symptoms. In this condition, there are sufficient healthy liver cells needed for metabolic activities and these healthy cells compensate for the damaged or scarred tissue.
In due course of time, the healthy liver cells are unable to keep the liver functions intact. Delay in treatment leads to Decompensated Cirrhosis. In the long run, purging of toxic elements like Ammonia from the body might stop. Unlike compensated cirrhosis, there are several symptoms and complications involved:
- Bleeding Varices (Bleeding from large blood vessels in oesophagus)
- Ascites (Build-up of fluid in the belly)
- Build-up of toxins in blood can cause encephalopathy
- Easy cuts and bleeding
How can Cirrhosis be prevented?
The treatment of Cirrhosis is mainly to prevent or slow down progression of scar tissue and complications. One may be able to reduce the impact by following these few tips.
- Adhere to treatment regime
- Keep away from alcohol and tobacco
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Change over to low-fat low-sodium diet
- Avoid infections
Diagnostic Tests for Cirrhosis?
- Liver biopsy
- Liver function tests
- Kidney function tests
- Tests for hepatitis B and C
- Blood Clotting test
- MRI/ CT/ Ultrasound
- Magnetic resonance or transient elastography
Can Cirrhosis be treated?
Treatment depends mainly on the cause and extent of liver damage. In the early stages, damage can be minimized by treating underlying causes. Treating alcohol dependency, losing weight, and medication for controlling other causes and symptoms of Cirrhosis can help in treatment of Cirrhosis.
Appropriate action taken with the guidance of a doctor can greatly slow the progression of Liver Cirrhosis.
In extreme situations - the last resort perhaps is liver transplant – but that’s an extremely expensive process, with high levels of risk, and of course dependent on finding a right donor, in time.
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