What is Cirrhosis?

N. Madison
N. Madison

Cirrhosis is a condition of the liver. It is marked by scarring of liver tissues that results in blocked blood flow and impaired liver function. Cirrhosis is one of the leading causes of death by disease. Sadly, it kills more than 25,000 people per year.

Cirrhosis may develop as a result of drug use.
Cirrhosis may develop as a result of drug use.

The liver has several critical jobs, including the removal or neutralization of poisons in the body. This vital organ is also responsible for producing immune agents critical for controlling infection and removing bacteria and germs from the blood. The liver also produces proteins necessary for the regulation of blood clotting and makes bile for the absorption of fat and certain vitamins. A person cannot live without a functioning liver.

A liver transplant may be required to treat cirrhosis.
A liver transplant may be required to treat cirrhosis.

There are many causes of this disease. Disease, drug use, infection, heavy alcoholic drinking, exposure to certain toxins, and blocked bile ducts can cause damage to the liver and lead to the condition. Among the known causes, chronic alcoholism and Hepatitis C are the most common in the United States.

Cirrhosis kills more than 25,000 people per year.
Cirrhosis kills more than 25,000 people per year.

A person can have cirrhosis without immediately exhibiting symptoms of the condition. Over time, however, healthy cells are replaced with scar tissue and liver function is reduced. As liver function begins to fail, symptoms of exhaustion, loss of appetite, nausea, and weight loss may become evident. The affected individual may also experience weakness, abdominal pain, and spider-like blood vessels on the skin.

Alcoholism can cause cirrhosis.
Alcoholism can cause cirrhosis.

As the disease progresses, complications may develop. These issues may include edema, ascites, bruising, bleeding, jaundice, itching, and gallstones. Other complications can include toxins in the blood or brain, medication sensitivity, portal hypertension, varices, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and liver cancer. Additionally, a person with cirrhosis may develop problems with other organs.

Nausea can be a sign that cirrhosis is causing liver failure.
Nausea can be a sign that cirrhosis is causing liver failure.

Damage caused by the disease cannot be reversed. Treatment, however, can delay or stop progression of the disease. Treatments vary, depending upon the cause of the condition. For example, cirrhosis caused by alcohol abuse is treated by abstinence from alcohol, while treatment for hepatitis-related cirrhosis involves using medications to treat hepatitis.

Gallstones are sometimes a complication related to cirrhosis of the liver.
Gallstones are sometimes a complication related to cirrhosis of the liver.

When treatment fails to control complications or the liver stops functioning, liver transplant surgery becomes necessary. A liver transplant involves removing the diseased liver and replacing it with a healthy donor liver. Between 80 and 90 percent of liver transplant recipients survive transplant surgery. After surgery, a liver transplant patient must take special medications designed to prevent the immune system from attacking and damaging the donor liver.

An abdominal ultrasound may help diagnose cirrhosis.
An abdominal ultrasound may help diagnose cirrhosis.
Some people with cirrhosis experience no symptoms.
Some people with cirrhosis experience no symptoms.
N. Madison
N. Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments

Ahmerus
@SpecialBug: The survival rate for liver transplant patients is greater than for heart transplants. About 88 percent of heart transplant patients survive the first year after transplant surgery, 75 percent survive five years post transplant surgery and there is about a 56 percent survival rate at ten years.

By the way, the liver is not the only organ that can contract cirrhosis. Unfortunately, cirrhosis of the kidneys is also possible.

SpecialBug
Cirrhosis of the liver seems like a pretty good reason to avoid excessive alcohol consumption. I wonder how the percentage of liver transplant survivors compares to other transplants. 80-90 percent doesn't sound that good.
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