What is Liver Cirrhosis?
Advisory by Lee Kahmen, Guardian Pharmacist
What is liver cirrhosis?
Liver cirrhosis refers to the scarring of the liver, whereby healthy tissue is replaced with scar tissue due to chronic disease from alcohol abuse or viral infections like hepatitis. The liver plays an important role in producing blood proteins, bile (essential for the digestion of fat, soluble vitamins, and other food substances) and detoxification. Scarred tissue can’t function normally, and thus, the liver loses its ability to carry out its various functions. Progression of the cirrhosis cannot be reversed and hence, a liver transplant is often necessary for patients with end-stage liver cirrhosis.
What are the symptoms associated with liver cirrhosis?
No significant signs or symptoms will be noticed with liver cirrhosis. Liver disorders are suspected when a person presents with fatigue, easy bruising or bleeding, yellow discolouration of the skin (jaundice), swelling around the abdomen or legs, nausea, loss of appetite, or unexplained weight loss.
What causes liver cirrhosis?
Scar tissue forms when the liver tries to repair itself after damage has been done. The subsequent accumulation of a large amount of scar tissue will then lead to liver cirrhosis. Long-term alcohol abuse is one of the main factors causing irreversible damage to this vital organ, followed by viral infections such as hepatitis C or B, as well as having excess fat accumulated around the liver.
How do I know whether I have liver cirrhosis?
Other than paying attention to the aforementioned symptoms, a routine blood test may reveal some anomalies with the level of liver enzymes or blood clotting factor. In addition, a liver function test for blood clotting time (INR: the time taken for blood to clot as compared to a general ratio) can be used to further diagnose this condition.
How should liver cirrhosis be managed?
No specific medication is available to stop liver cirrhosis. The main treatment plan is to treat the underlying cause of the cirrhosis. For example by stopping alcohol abuse, using antiviral drugs to control the hepatitis, or by following a well-balanced diet plan to cease the development of fatty liver, etc.
Symptomatic control may be necessary; this may include diuretics (water pills) to remove fluid accumulated either in the abdomen or leg, as well as medicines that prevent toxins from building up since the liver is unable to carry out this function anymore. As stated previously though, when medications are no longer sufficient, end-stage liver cirrhosis will requires a liver transplant.