Our liver performs some of the most crucial functions of the body. Starting from helping us absorb nutrients and getting rid of toxins to filtering blood, this organ, located at the right-hand side of the abdomen, does it all for us, However, it is extremely vulnerable to damages triggered by a combination of factors and complications. One such complication is scarring of the liver. It is known as cirrhosis.
What is Cirrhosis?
In this condition, scar tissue replaces your healthy liver cells. Caused by an infection of alcohol addiction, cirrhosis takes time to develop. Build-up of scar tissues blocks blood flow to the liver and impairs its functions. The liver of a person with cirrhosis cannot produce protein and other substances, process hormones and nutrients or filter out toxins. Though there is no cure for the condition, spotting the symptoms early on will help you manage it better.
The signs of this condition depend on its severity. You many not experience any manifestation at the initial stage. The symptoms manifest as the disease progresses. Here are the common ones to look out for:
Fatigue and weakness
- Lack of appetite and weight loss
- Swollen ankles and legs (caused by fluid and salt retention)
- Frequent bleeding and bruising
- Redness in the hands and palms
- Yellowing of skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Itchy skin
- Poor memory
- Lack of concentration
- Low libido
- Shrink in testicles
- Disturbed menstrual cycle
- Muscle cramp
- Brittle bones
- Spleen enlargement
- Blood in the stool
- Brown or orange tint in the urine.
You may not experience all these symptoms and some of them may indicate other health conditions too.
What Causes Cirrhosis?
There can be many triggers behind cirrhosis. However, the most common ones include chronic viral infections like hepatitis B and C and alcohol abuse. Additionally, certain conditions and medicines can also increase your risk of cirrhosis. Here is a low-down on them:
- Hepatitis D: This viral infection of the liver can be a major trigger behind cirrhosis. It accompanies hepatitis B.
- Autoimmune liver diseases: In this condition, our own immune cells attack the liver and the bile duct cells. Autoimmune hepatitis, primary biliary cholangitis and primary sclerosing cholangitis are examples of such ailments. Some of these conditions can be genetic.
- Biliary cirrhosis: This condition damages the bile duct, an organ responsible for transporting bile. Bile is generated in the liver.
- Hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease: Both these conditions impair your body’s ability to handle minerals like iron and copper.
- Reaction to certain medicines: Indiscriminate use of antidepressants and OTC drugs like acetaminophen and some antibiotics can potentially increase your chances of cirrhosis.
- Other factors: Genetic digestive disorders, and other hereditary conditions like cystic fibrosis and infections like syphilis and brucellosis can also scar your liver tissues.
As already mentioned, cirrhosis blocks blood flow to the liver. So, the blood that is supposed to reach the liver starts flowing through other veins in the oesophagus which are unable to handle such high pressure. This extra blood flow makes those veins bulge. Apart from this, there are other complications that can arise from cirrhosis. They are:
- Bruising caused by poor clotting
- Excessive bleeding caused by a dip in the proteins that help in clotting
- Kidney failure
- Liver cancer
- Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
- Hepatic encephalopathy (a condition in which your brain isn’t able to function properly as there is a build-up of toxins in the bloodstream, caused by the liver’s inability to eliminate them
- Gallstones (interference with bile flow can cause bile to harden and form stones)
- Enlarged spleen
Diagnosis of Cirrhosis
If you visit a doctor with the above-mentioned symptoms, he will first do a physical examination to check if your spleen or liver has increased in size. He will also look for swollen abdomen, redness of skin or yellowing of eyes. He may recommend the following tests for conformation.
Blood tests: These include complete blood count, liver function tests (SGOT, bilirubin, alkaline phosphatise, etc), blood albumin and prothrombin time, coagulation blood tests alpha fetoprotein (a liver cancer screening). These tests will check the levels of certain liver enzymes and bilirubin in the blood, count of some proteins and antibodies, viral infections, so on and so forth.
Imaging tests: If the blood tests indicate liver damage, then you may need to undergo an ultrasound, CT scan or an MRI. Other confirmatory imaging tests include endoscopy of the oesophagus, stomach or liver biopsy.
Treatment of cirrhosis
Cirrhosis isn’t a curable condition. However, there are certain treatment options that will help you live with it in a much better way. The line of treatment varies depending on the underlying cause and severity of the condition but it aims at reducing liver damage and managing the associated complications. Alongside medical intervention, alcohol abstinence is a must for managing cirrhosis.
Medications: Drug therapy includes medicines to treat alcohol dependency, control pressure in certain veins, viral and bacterial infections, fluid build-up in the abdomen and other associated complications.
Non-surgical procedures: Cirrhosis of liver leads to severe bleeding in the veins of the oesophagus, stomach, rectum, and umbilical area. Certain non-surgical procedures may be required to stem the bleeding. These include banding, injection sclerotherapy, Transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic stent shunt, so on and so forth.
Liver transplant: This is the last option. You may have to go for this surgical procedure if all other measures fail.
Malabsorption of nutrients is a common problem for people with cirrhosis, thanks to their altered metabolism. So, what they eat and avoid plays an instrumental role in taming the condition. If you are suffering from the condition, plan your menu with your doctor and a nutritionist. Here, we tell you what you should eat and avoid while manging cirrhosis.
Include these foods in your meals
Choose foods that are easy for your liver to process, as it is unable to function properly when scarred. Also, your diet should include items that help in the healing process. Here are some options:
- Fresh green vegetables and fruit rich in vitamins and fibre
- Low-fat dairy products
- Whole grains
- Lean poultry
- Low-sodium foods
Cut back on these
Certain foods and beverages can worsen your condition. Avoid them. Here is what you shouldn’t have on your menu if you are living with cirrhosis:
- Red meat
- High-sodium foods
- Processed foods
- Deep-fried foods
- High-fat foods
Prevention of cirrhosis
Cirrhosis cannot be cured but you can prevent or at least reduce the risk of this condition for sure. Here, we guide you on how to do so.
Get yourself vaccinated: Immunize yourself against hepatitis B, one of the major triggers behind liver cirrhosis. Three shots of the hepatitis B vaccine taken over three months can provide long term protection against the dreaded disease.
Eat healthy: Eat a healthy diet that is rich in essential nutrients and high in fibre. Maintain a healthy diet plan and include liver-friendly foods in your meals.
Don’t go overboard on alcohol: Practise moderation while it comes to alcohol. It is a major culprit behind liver cirrhosis.
Exercise: A simple and effective way to prevent a wide range of health complications including any liver disease is to exercise daily. It will prevent obesity and fat build-up in the liver, another trigger behind cirrhosis.
Practise safe sex: Having unprotected sex with multiple partners can increase your chance of viral infections of the liver than lead to scarring.
Avoid exposure to synthetic chemicals: Toxins in certain cleaning agents and pesticides can harm your liver. Wear protective gear if you need to be in close contact wit them.