What is liver cirrhosis?
Your liver is an important organ and it has many jobs to perform to keep your body healthy. Its most important roles are:
- Breaking down digested food and drink and converting it into energy
- Waste removal of products that your kidneys fail to eliminate from your bloodstream
- Fighting infections using macrophages which eliminate any harmful bacteria they encounter
- Enzyme and protein production for blood clotting and the repair of damaged tissues
Read our blog Your liver and you — why it’s vital to maintain a healthy relationship to see how you can keep it as healthy as possible.
Long-term liver damage can cause scarring which is called cirrhosis. Scar tissue on the liver prevents it from working properly. If you have liver cirrhosis it is usually picked up through a routine blood test or checkup, because early-stage cirrhosis of the liver doesn’t usually have any symptoms.
Diagnosis of liver cirrhosis can be discovered by ultrasound, CT or MRI scans, a liver biopsy (a sample of liver cells is taken with a needle to be examined), or an endoscopy. Images of your oesophagus and stomach can show swollen veins (varices), which are a sign of cirrhosis.
What are the effects on the body?
Because the liver performs many roles in the body, damage to it can affect its normal functioning and produce numerous symptoms. Early-stage liver cirrhosis may not have any symptoms. However, as the liver becomes more damaged, the following symptoms may manifest:
- Extreme fatigue – feeling very tired and or weak
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of libido/sex drive
- Jaundice. A yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
- Itchy patches of skin
- You may bruise or bleed more easily
- Oedema. Swollen legs
- A darkening of the stools
- Ascites. A swollen tummy due to a build up of fluid
- Vomiting blood
As liver cirrhosis gets worse, further symptoms can include:
Scarring of the liver prevents it from working properly, causing liver failure which can prove to be fatal. However, the condition can take years to reach this stage and treatment slows its progression.
What are the causes of liver cirrhosis?
Liver cirrhosis can be caused by:
- Excessive alcohol drinking over a long period of time*
- Hepatitis B or hepatitis C viral infections
- Long-term hepatitis B or C
- Inherited diseases of the liver such as haemochromatosis which is where your body’s iron levels build up over time, or alpha 1 antitrypsin – a disorder that increases the risk of lung and liver problems (as alpha 1 antitrypsin is a protein that protects the lungs)
- Primary biliary cirrhosis. This is a condition in which the bile ducts in the liver become damaged
- Fatty liver disease where the liver becomes inflamed as the result of a build-up of excess fat.
* Alcohol-related cirrhosis typically develops after ten or more years of heavy drinking
We also have 8 Tips for keeping your liver healthy for you to try.
Treatments and relief
There's currently no cure for liver cirrhosis. However, you can slow its progression and manage the symptoms.
Depending on the underlying cause of the liver cirrhosis treatments can include using anti-viral medication (to treat a hepatitis C infection) and reducing alcohol intake.
Other recommendations for relieving liver cirrhosis symptoms are:
- Losing weight and eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Protecting yourself from hepatitis B and C which includes not having unprotected sex, not injecting drugs and, in the case of hep B, receiving a vaccine.
In advanced cases of cirrhosis, a liver transplant may be the only treatment option left available. Cirrhosis is one of the most common reasons for a liver transplant.
A liver transplant replaces your liver with a healthy liver from a deceased donor or with part of a liver from a living one. Before a transplant can take place, extensive testing must be carried out to make sure that the transplant will result in a good outcome.
If the liver cirrhosis is alcohol related, it is not usually recommended that they receive a liver transplant. This is because of the risk that they will return to harmful drinking after transplant.
The information in this article is intended as general advice only. If you or your family members require medical advice or have any medical concerns, please contact your GP.
Please note that not all conditions discussed above are covered by a CSH plan. For more information on what is covered please visit our FAQ page or speak to one of our friendly sales advisers on 0800 917 4325†