by Kimberly Allen R.N.
Cirrhosis is the scaring of the liver. It is not a disease it is a complication that can develop as a result of numerous different conditions affecting the liver. In the US Cirrhosis and chronic liver disease are the 10th leading cause of death in men and 12th in women. There are approximately 27,000 deaths every year related to cirrhosis in the US. Some experts believe the cost of cirrhosis if you include hospital and other medical expenses like Drs and medications with lost productivity to be in the billions of dollars and if you add human suffering into the equation it’s one of the health systems most costly conditions.
The liver is responsible for several critical functions in our body. It produces the “clotting proteins” that our body requires to clot our blood and also has a significant role in regulating our blood glucose levels. any condition whether disease or injury that interferes with the liver function will significantly impact our body. There are numerous diseases that can lead to cirrhosis. Long term alcohol use and abuse is the leading cause of cirrhosis followed by chronic diseases like hepatitis B or C. Other primary diseases that can lead to cirrhosis include primary biliary cirrhosis, primary sclerosisng cholengitis and wilsons disease as well as others. Then there is non-alcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH which is associated with other diseases like diabetes, coronary artery disease obesity, protein malnutrition and medications like corticosteroids. The list of things that can damage the liver is extensive and wide ranging.
Frequently there are no noticeable symptoms of cirrhosis until the damage is severe and probably irreversible. When you do experience symptoms they would include fatigue, easily bruising and/or bleeding, poor appetite and weight loss, as well as swelling in your feet and legs and accumulation of fluid in your abdomen. Should you have any condition that could cause damage to your liver and you either are experiencing symptoms related cirrhosis or suspect that you may have liver damage it’s important to contact your Dr and make an appointment for an evaluation. The liver is one of the few organs that can regenerate, but only if the damage is not too extensive. So the sooner you seek treatment the better your chances for recovery.
When you see your Dr he/she will do numerous tests to assess the liver function. The severity of your cirrhosis is graded using the “Child-Pugh score”. The Child-Pugh score uses the levels of albumin, bilirubin and INP as well as the degree of brain involvement or encephalopathy to classify cirrhosis as A, B, or C with A having the most potential for recovery and class C having the highest risk for death.
As a rule the amount of liver damage done by the time cirrhosis is diagnosed is usually to extensive to be reversed. However, treatment can either stop or inhibit further damage and complications. Treatments are always aimed at preventing further damage to the liver. The first part of the treatment plan in cases of alcohol related cirrhosis is to stop drinking. If you are unwilling to stop drinking it doesn’t matter what other treatments are available because they will not be effective if you continue to consume alcohol, even if you reduce your intake. There are medications available today that can help limit the liver damage done by hepatitis b or C. There are numerous complications that can develop because of cirrhosis that will also require treatment. It’s important that you have a frank and honest discussion with your Dr regarding your treatment plan and willingness to participate in it.
Prevention is the best way to approach health issues and cirrhosis is no different. There are many things that you can do to reduce your chances of developing cirrhosis including either limiting or avoiding alcohol consumption. Eating healthy is always part of any prevention plan, that means more fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and more fish and chicken while reducing fats, fried foods, refined sugars. Maintaining a healthy weight by exercising regularly benefits all your organs including the liver. If you have underlying diseases like diabetes it’s important to follow the treatment plan designed to help you manage that disease to prevent secondary complications like cirrhosis. It’s also important to redusce your risk of developing other disease like hepatitis by not sharing needles or having unprotected sex.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.