Liver is the largest internal and solid organ in human body. It weighs around 3 pounds. Liver has many important functions in human body summarised as below:
- Formation of blood proteins
- Storage of iron
- Storage of excessive nutrients
- Storage of sugars in the form of glycogen
- Producing cholesterol
- Filtration of toxic products from the blood
- Bile formation
Cirrhosis of the liver is a condition occurs when the normal liver cells are replaced by scar tissue. It ultimately leads to loss of functioning of the liver. Cirrhosis of the liver is the 12th leading cause of death all over the world.
Causes of liver cirrhosis:
Following conditions may result in liver cirrhosis.
- Fatty liver: excessive deposition of fat cells in liver. It is mostly seen in obese and diabetic population.
- Infections: long term viral infections of liver e.g. hepatitis B, C, D are associated with liver cirrhosis occurrence.
- Alcohol: long term intake of alcohol causes liver damage and results in cirrhosis.
- Certain genetic conditions: some inherited conditions like cystic fibrosis, glycogen storage disease, alpha 1 anti-trypsin deficiency can result in liver cirrhosis.
- Drugs: rarely excessive ingestion of prescription drugs such as regular pain killers and chemotherapeutic drugs may cause liver cirrhosis.
Symptoms of liver cirrhosis:
A person may have liver cirrhosis if presents with following symptoms:
- General weakness
- Feeling tired all the time
- Rapid weight loss
- Jaundice (yellowish discoloration of skin and whites of the eyes)
- Loos of appetite
- Itching all over the body
- Easy bruising
- Swelling of the feet
- Abdominal distention
- Pale white stools
- Dark coloured urine
- Physical examination: The doctor will conduct a physical examination in which he will check for the liver enlargement and the texture of the liver surface by touching over your abdomen.
- Blood tests: liver function tests will indicate if any liver enzymes are abnormal.
- Imaging modalities: sonography or CT scan MRI scan may denote the underlying problem in detail.
- Biopsy: a piece of the liver is removed and visualised under microscope to identify any microscopic pathology.
- Laparoscopy: the liver can also be inspected through a laparoscope internally.
Liver cirrhosis cannot be completely cured but its progression can be minimised. The treatment depends on the underlying cause:
- In alcoholic liver cirrhosis, stopping of alcohol intake will halt the progression.
- In hepatitis, steroids and anti-viral drugs are found useful to control the cirrhosis.
- Salt restriction is useful in people having swelling in the legs.
- Diet and drugs for the mental function improvement.
- Liver transplant: if the liver failure occurs as a result of the cirrhosis then liver transplant from a compatible donor is the last resort.
Complications of liver cirrhosis:
Liver cirrhosis if not diagnosed earlier or ignore upon diagnosis may result in following fatal complications:
- Varices: the blood vessels get dilated and tortuous. These resultant veins are called as variceal veins. Their walls are fragile and prone to damage with slightest injury. It results in bleeding. They are mainly seen in oesophagus and stomach.
- Mental changes: as liver is damaged, it fails to remove the toxic products out of the body. Accumulation of these toxic products may affect the brain and cause mental confusion, behavioural changes.
- Blood problems: as liver is not able produce certain clotting factors in the blood, the bleeding tendency of the body increase.
- Liver failure: it causes the liver to stop from functioning at all.
- Kidney failure
- Increased risk of infections
Prevention is better than cure. Following are the ways by which liver cirrhosis can be prevented.
- Avoid excess intake of alcohol.
- Avoid high risk sexual acts e.g. unprotected sex with multiple partners as it increases the risk of hepatitis B and C infections.
- Vaccination against Hep B
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat a nutritious and well balanced diet.
Liver cirrhosis is a difficult ailment to manage and requires a lot of care and life style changes. Taking care to prevent it is the best way o tackle this health issue.