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Cirrhosis of the Liver  

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Definition  

Cirrhosis is a disease in which the liver becomes permanently damaged and the normal structure of the liver is changed. Healthy liver cells are replaced by scarred tissue. The liver is not able to do its normal functions, such as detoxifying harmful substances, purifying blood, and making vital nutrients.

In addition, scarring slows down the normal flow of blood through the liver, causing blood to find alternate pathways. This may result in bleeding blood vessels known as gastric or esophageal varices .

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Causes  

Causes of cirrhosis include:

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Risk Factors  

Factors that may increase your chance of having cirrhosis include:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Hepatitis infection
  • Liver cancer
  • Use of drugs that are toxic to the liver
  • Being overweight or gaining weight
  • Diabetes that is poorly controlled
  • Ingestion of too much iron
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Symptoms  

Cirrhosis often does not cause symptoms early in the disease process. Symptoms start when the liver begins to fail, as scar tissue replaces healthy cells. Symptom severity depends on the extent of liver damage.

Cirrhosis may cause:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Poor appetite, nausea, or weight loss
  • Itching
  • Abdominal swelling, tenderness, and pain
  • Appearance of thin, purplish-red, spidery looking blood vessels on the skin
  • Menstrual problems
  • Impotence
  • Enlarged breasts in men

As cirrhosis progresses, it may cause:

  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
  • Dark urine
  • Swelling in the legs and abdomen
  • Loss of body hair
  • Bleeding and bruising
  • Vomiting blood
  • Neurological problems, such as forgetfulness, confusion, agitation, or tremors

Complications of cirrhosis may include:

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Diagnosis  

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:

Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

Other tests may include:

  • Removing fluid from the abdomen and examining it
  • Inserting a catheter into the liver vein and measuring the pressure within that vein—rarely necessary
  • Other tests to determine what caused the cirrhosis and what complications may occur
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Treatment  

There is no cure for cirrhosis. The goals of treatment are to keep the condition from getting worse, including:

  • Controlling the cause
  • Treating underlying medical conditions
  • Preventing additional damage
  • Treating symptoms and complications
  • Having liver cancer screenings

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:

Medication  

Medication may be advised to:

  • Treat hepatitis and complications that arise
  • Reduce the absorption of waste products and toxins in the digestive system
  • Reduce the risk of a broken blood vessel