Liver cirrhosis is a term used to describe scarring of liver tissue. When liver tissue is damaged, scar tissue replaces the healthy tissue that is needed for some of the body’s vital tasks, including bile production, blood protein creation and the cleansing of toxins from the bloodstream. Nearly one in every 400 adults in the U.S. suffers from liver cirrhosis, and this condition causes close to 26,000 deaths per year.
Causes of Liver Cirrhosis
The most common causes of liver cirrhosis are:
- Long-term alcohol abuse
- Chronic viral infections, such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C
- Fatty liver associated with obesity and diabetes
Less prominent causes can include:
- Diseases that damage or block bile ducts in the liver
- Inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis, hemochromatosis, Wilson disease and glycogen storage diseases
- Chronic heart failure
- Autoimmune hepatitis
Symptoms of Liver Cirrhosis
While the early stages of liver cirrhosis may not produce noticeable symptoms, some of the earliest signs can include:
- Weakness or loss of energy
- Loss of appetite
- Sudden weight loss
As liver function deteriorates and the condition worsens, additional symptoms can include:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
- Itchy skin
- Leg, ankle and foot swelling
- Easy bruising and bleeding
- A buildup of fluid in the abdomen
- Orange or brownish urine
- Confusion, drowsiness and slowed speech (hepatic encephalopathy)
Cirrhosis can also be painful, especially as it worsens. Pain is usually noticed in the right upper abdomen and can feel like a dull, throbbing ache or a stabbing sensation.
Diagnosing Liver Cirrhosis
Cirrhosis is most often detected through blood tests. If you suspect that you’re experiencing the symptoms of liver cirrhosis, your healthcare provider will likely start by asking about your medical history and your history of over-the-counter and prescription drug use. Other topics of discussion may include alcohol use and injectable drug use.
Next, your doctor will perform a physical exam to look for any of the previously mentioned physical symptoms of liver cirrhosis. Blood tests may also be conducted to look for signs of liver damage such as raised enzyme levels, lower than normal levels of albumin, increased iron levels or a high white blood cell count. Other diagnostic options may include imaging tests or a liver biopsy.
Treatments for Liver Cirrhosis
For cirrhosis patients, recommended treatments will likely address the underlying causes of the liver damage. If the damage is due to a condition like hepatitis, it can be controlled through medications. Other underlying causes, such as alcohol dependency and fatty liver disease, may be controlled through lifestyle changes. Cirrhosis damage, while irreversible, can be managed in most circumstances, but a liver transplant is required in some cases.
Tampa General Hospital’s liver disease and hepatology experts work hand in hand with TGH’s Transplant Institute, which has some of the shortest organ transplant wait times in the country and leverages advanced treatment technologies to achieve world-class outcomes for patients.