Cirrhosis of the liver is a disease which is responsible for a large number of deaths each year. In the United States, it is estimated that almost 2% of the total US population is affected by this disease. Cirrhosis is defined as damage caused to the liver that can’t be undone. It is caused by long term injury to the liver.
The liver is said to be the largest internal organ in the body which play crucial roles and the human cannot survive without normal functioning of the liver. This is because the liver has many important functions to perform such as removing toxins and harmful substances from the blood, storing vitamins, minerals, fats, and sugar, and preventing the occurrence of infections.
Cirrhosis is significantly associated with portal hypertension which is defined as a condition in which the pressure in the portal veins becomes too high. The liver of the patients having cirrhosis becomes stiff which makes it difficult for the blood to flow through the liver, resulting in an increase in the pressure in the portal vein.
The severity of this disease can be explained in two stages:
1. Compensated cirrhosis - It is the early stage of cirrhosis in which patient does not experience any symptoms. Many times patients remain unaware of their problem. At this point, the pressure on the portal veins is not too high. As a result, symptoms do not appear.
2. Decompensated cirrhosis - It is an advanced stage of cirrhosis in which a condition of a person becomes severe and life-threatening. At this point, patients experience some symptoms and are at high risk of developing various complications.
Cirrhosis is associated with the appearance of many symptoms and some of them include:
- Excessive drowsiness
- Problems with concentration
- Problems with digestive tract
How cirrhosis occurs?
Cirrhosis occurs when long term damage is caused to the liver. There are many causes of liver injury that could lead to inflammation of the liver. There are various factors that could cause damage to the cells of the liver and leads to the formation of scar tissue. The process of the formation of scar tissue is known as fibrosis. As this process continues for a long time, it leads to the occurrence of cirrhosis. In other terms, it can be said that any health problem that affects the liver for a long time can cause cirrhosis.
There are many causes of cirrhosis and some of the most common ones include:
- Alcoholic liver disease - It is a serious disorder which occurs due to excessive consumption of alcohol. The liver in the body is especially vulnerable to alcohol related injury and this is because the liver is primarily responsible for the metabolism of alcohol in the body. It is characterized by the fatty liver and this excess accumulation of liver cells cause damage. Alcoholic liver disease is defined by three stages of liver damage, fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis.
- Chronic hepatitis B - It is caused by the hepatitis B virus and is considered to be the most common liver infection. It is a serious disorder that attacks and causes an injury to the liver. Chronic hepatitis B is transmitted disease and it can be transmitted through blood and infected bodily fluids. Most often people with this disease do not experience any symptoms and this is the reason why it is often known as a silent infection.
- Autoimmune hepatitis - It is a medical condition which is characterized by the nonresolving inflammation of the liver. Autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system which is known to be a defense system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the body. Autoimmune hepatitis occurs when the immune system attacks the liver and causes inflammation, resulting in the occurrence of cirrhosis.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease - Although alcohol is the most common cause of fatty liver, it is not the only cause of it. When fatty liver occurs in a patient who does not consume alcohol, it is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Some of the factors that highly contributes to the development of this disease include high body mass index, high blood glucose level, high blood cholesterol levels, and poor eating habits. Along with cirrhosis, it can also cause liver cancer or liver failure.
Cirrhosis is a severe and life-threatening which require immediate medical treatment. When cirrhosis reaches the advanced level, the risk of complications is very high. Pulmonary hypertension is the primary consequence of this disease and is somewhere responsible for most of the complications associated with it. There are many diseases or health problems that occur as a result of cirrhosis and many of them are as follows:
- Hepatocellular carcinoma - It is a medical term used for the tumor in the liver. Cirrhosis is one of the most common risk factors for the development of this type of cancer. It is believed that the risk of developing this disease is three to four times higher in patients having cirrhosis. In the advanced level of cirrhosis, the cells in the liver start to multiple and cause tumor. The cancer is left undiagnosed until it becomes large and causes symptoms.
- Varices - It is a condition which is characterized by the abnormal enlargement of veins that develop within the digestive system of the patients having cirrhosis. Varices is a vein which is found in the pipe that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Cirrhosis leads to an increase in the pressure in the portal vein and in order to release this pressure, the blood goes in many veins, and varices are some of these veins.
- Hepatic Encephalopathy - It is a condition which is characterized by neuropsychiatric abnormalities which can be caused by various factors. The likelihood of developing this disease is associated with the severity of the liver disease. Cirrhosis is one of the causes of hepatic encephalopathy. This is because cirrhosis impairs the filtering function of the liver, as a result, the waste products are not properly detoxified. When these waste products are delivered in the brain, it causes hepatic encephalopathy.
- Ascites - It is defined as the accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity and portal hypertension is one of the most common causes of this accumulation. It is characterized by symptoms like increase in abdominal size, abdominal discomfort, and lack of appetite. It is a serious condition which when progresses, can restrict the normal expansion of chest during breathing and can cause shortness of breath.