As the liver performs a variety of important functions in the body, it is extremely vulnerable to a variety of metabolic, toxic, microbial, circulatory and cancerous insults. One such complications of liver is cirrhosis or scarring of the liver. It is the end phase of chronic liver disease that damages the liver completely. The scar tissue slowly replaces the healthy tissue of the liver thereby preventing the organ from functioning properly. The long-term effect of tissue scarring in the liver is liver failure.
Cirrhosis of liver is among the top 10 causes of death in the world according to CDC (Centre for disease control and prevention). It is caused mostly due to –
- Alcohol abuse
- NAFLD (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease)Viral infection due to hepatitis B and C
- Diseases of the bile duct causing bile to accumulate in the liver
- Iron overload
- Hereditary diseases like cystic fibrosis and glycogen storage diseases.
- Other liver diseases such as hemochromatosis or jaundice
- Use of certain medicines and long term exposure to environmental pollutants or toxins.
The common signs and symptoms that indicate cirrhosis of the liver are -
- Small, red spider-like blood vessels on the skin
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Fluid retention causing oedema (swelling of parts in the body including feet) as the disease worsens
- Jaundice (yellowing of skin)
- Impotence in men and shrinking of testicles
- Light colored stools or blood in the stool
Your doctor will perform physical examination first followed by lab tests to determine liver damage.
Physical exam: It is done to look for an enlarged liver or spleen, swollen abdomen, reddened skin and yellow eyes.
Blood tests: The laboratory tests that are used to determine your liver efficiency include CBC (complete blood count), liver function tests (SGOT, bilirubin, alkaline phosphatise, etc), blood albumin and prothrombin time.
Other tests: If the above tests indicate liver damage, your doctor may tell you to perform CT scan, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imagining) or ultrasound of the abdomen. Apart from these, endoscopy of the esophagus or stomach or liver biopsy is also advised in some cases to confirm diagnosis.
The treatment approach for liver cirrhosis involves a three step procedure – lifestyle changes, medications and surgery, which is normally dependent on the severity of the condition.
Lifestyle changes: By making few changes in your daily routine, you can lower the progression of liver damage and prevent complications. Here are some changes you need to implement –
Medications: The common drugs that are prescribed to treat liver cirrhosis include –
- Avoid consumption of alcohol
- Start on a low-fat diet
- Eat diet that is low in salt and less spicy in nature
- Get yourself vaccinated for influenza and hepatitis. If you are on any medications or are taking herbal supplements, tell your doctor about the same.
Surgical options: If the condition has progressed to severe stage of infection and cannot be treated with lifestyle changes and medication, then surgery is the only effective option available. These include –
- Diuretics – These medications help in clearing the fluid build-up thereby aiding in the recovery of the liver.
- Vitamin K supplements – In case you’re suffering from excessive bleeding, your doctor may prescribe vitamin K pills or blood products to prevent bleeding.
- Antibiotics – As the liver is severely damaged in people suffering from cirrhosis, you may be at an increased risk of infection. Hence, antibiotics are prescribed to prevent bacterial attack and improve your immune function.
- Paracentesis – It involves removal of fluid from the abdomen with the help of surgery.
- Transjugular Intrahepatic Portosystemic Shunt (TIPS) – It is placed in the body to improve blood flow to the liver.
If left untreated, cirrhosis of liver may deteriorate the liver tissue leading to liver failure. Hence, it is very important to get treated as soon as you are diagnosed with the condition.
Here are few tips to prevent liver disease and keep your liver healthy -
Eat healthy – Eat a healthy diet that is rich in essential nutrients and high in fibre. Maintain a healthy diet plan and include foods that are good for liver. Read about 5 foods that can help prevent liver disease.
Alcohol – It is best to avoid alcohol as it directly affects the functioning of the liver.
Exercise: A simple and effective way to prevent a wide range of health complications including liver disease is to exercise daily.
Vaccination: Some liver diseases such as hepatitis B can be preventable by vaccination. Three shots of the hepatitis B vaccine taken over three months can provide long term protection against the dreaded disease. So, get yourself vaccinated to prevent liver ailments.
Hygienic food and drinking water: Think twice before having road side delicacies, as the risk of liver disease is high when you eat unhygienic food. Also, boil the water that you intend to drink.
Wash your hands properly: Washing your hands is an extremely important step in prevention of various diseases including liver cirrhosis. So, make it a habit to wash your hands with antibacterial soap every time your visit a washroom or eat something. Here’s how to wash hands the right way.
Avoid self-medication: Various drugs can damage the liver if taken indiscriminately. So, never take any medications by yourself and always consult a doctor before you take one.
Regular check-ups: If diagnosed with liver disease, be regular with follow ups. This will help in effective treatment of the disease and aid in quick recovery.