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There are four stages of cirrhosis of the liver: initial, secondary, tertiary and final. The stages of cirrhosis are rated according to severity, with initial being the most mild, and final being the most serious. By stage four, liver cancer can develop, along with kidney and lung failure. Eventually, total liver failure can occur, which can be fatal without a liver transplant.
In the first of the stages of cirrhosis, the symptoms are mild. A patient might exhibit some weight loss or fatigue, and loss of appetite. If other symptoms such as all-over itchiness or pain in the upper right abdomen are present, a doctor might order a blood test to check for abnormal signs of liver function. If these signs appear, a biopsy may be ordered which would reveal which the stage of cirrhosis. An ultrasound may also be ordered to check for swelling of the liver since this is also a characteristic of stage one.
In the second of the stages of cirrhosis, the inflammation has spread. The liver is now enlarged and a condition known as fibrosis begins to occur. This is when damaged tissue forms networks and begin to expand.
By the third of the stages of cirrhosis, the fibrosis has spread to other areas of the liver. Functions of the liver begin to deteriorate, fats and vitamins are not digested properly, and toxins begin to build up. A build-up of toxins can result in mental deterioration.
Stage four is the most critical of the stages of cirrhosis. Liver cancer can form along with kidney and lung impairment, which all contribute to a state of total liver failure. At this point, only a liver transplant can save a person, as life expectancy is generally 10 years or less.
Cirrhosis of the liver is caused most commonly by excessive alcohol intake, the hepatitis b and hepatitis c viruses and the onset of fatty liver disease. In rare cases, it is caused by heart disease or genetic problems. Most often, it can be prevented by limiting alcohol intake and immunizing properly against hepatitis.
There is no total or permanent cure for liver disease, but it can be managed. A person with cirrhosis that is brought on by alcoholism must cease drinking alcohol altogether for any effective treatment to work. If the cirrhosis is brought on by hepatitis, the virus itself can be treated, hopefully limiting the scope of the condition. A healthy lifestyle can help prevent the disease from manifesting, and also can help limit the deterioration of the liver once the condition has begun.