Synopsis

CIRRHOSIS OF THE LIVER

Cirrhosis is a type of liver damage where healthy cells are replaced by scar tissue. The liver is unable to perform its vital functions of metabolism, production of proteins, including blood clotting factors, and filtering of drugs and toxins.

Many people think that only drinking excessive amounts of alcohol causes liver cirrhosis, but there are a number of other ways that the liver can be damaged and lead to cirrhosis.

Depending on the cause, cirrhosis can develop over months or years. There is no cure. Treatment aims to halt liver damage, manage the symptoms and reduce the risk of complications, such as diabetes, osteoporosis (brittle bones), liver cancer and liver failure.

 

SYMPTOMS OF LIVER CIRRHOSIS

Symptoms depend on the severity of the cirrhosis, but may include:

  • appetite loss
  • nausea
  • weight loss
  • general tiredness
  • spidery red veins on the skin (spider angiomas)
  • easily bruised skin
  • yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • reddened palms (palmar erythema)
  • itchy skin
  • hair loss
  • dark coloured urine
  • fluid retention in the abdomen and legs
  • internal bleeding presenting as dark-coloured stools or vomiting blood
  • hormone disruptions that could cause a range of problems, including testicular atrophy (shrinking) and impotence in males or amenorrhoea (no periods) in women
  • cognitive problems such as memory loss, confusion or concentration difficulties.

CAUSES OF LIVER CIRRHOSIS

Excessive and chronic alcohol consumption is the most common cause of liver cirrhosis. Cirrhosis from drinking alcohol can develop over many years.

It is important to remember that the amount of alcohol that will damage the liver can vary from person to person. If a healthy woman drinks the same amount of alcohol as a healthy man, she has a higher risk of cirrhosis. Children are particularly susceptible to damage from alcohol. Some people also have a genetic predisposition to alcohol-related liver injury.

People with a medical condition, especially those affecting the liver, may have a higher risk of damage from alcohol. If you already have hepatitis B or C, or cirrhosis of the liver (from any cause), you are at risk of making your condition worse if you drink alcohol.

WHERE TO GET HELP

  • Your doctor
  • Gastroenterologist
  • Dietitian

THINGS TO REMEMBER

  • Cirrhosis is a type of liver damage where healthy cells are replaced by scar tissue.
  • Common causes include excessive drinking of alcohol, hepatitis B and C, and fatty liver caused by obesity and diabetes.
  • Drinking alcohol if you already have another condition that causes liver damage can increase your risk of cirrhosis.
  • Treatment aims to halt liver damage, manage the symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.