Liver cirrhosis is a condition that limits the livers’ function due to long term damage.
It is the late stage of scarring of the liver caused by long term alcoholism, hepatitis, right-sided heart failure and other liver related conditions.
Every time the liver is injured it repairs itself forming a scar tissue. When this process is repeated, more scar tissues are formed making the liver to shrink and harden (cirrhosis), this damage is irreversible.
Statistics on liver cirrhosis deaths
Sadly, in recent times, cirrhosis has been one of the major causes of deaths.
Wikipedia states that Cirrhosis recorded a rise in no of deaths from 0.8 million in 1990 to 1.2 million in 2013. Alcohol caused 384,000, hepatitis c 358,000 while hepatitis b 317,000.
According World Health Organization (WHO) data, Liver diseases deaths in Kenya had reached 3,680 which is 1.10% of the total deaths by May 2014.
Facts on the liver as an organ
The liver is one of the largest internal organs of the human body that’s connected to every psychological process and carries out over 500 independent chemical processes.
It detoxifies harmful substances in the body, regulates the supply of glucose and fat that the body uses as fuel and cleans the blood making vital nutrients hence any liver disease restrains this functions causing strain on a person’s health.
More on the causes of Cirrhosis
Basically anything that damages the liver can cause cirrhosis.
According to National Health Service (NHS) UK, long term alcoholism is one of the primary causes of cirrhosis.
Different gender responds differently to alcohol. While for women one or two drinks a day can cause liver damage, men can safely take up to five drinks a day.
Individual tolerance varies, in that people who drink a lot of alcohol frequently are more prone to developing liver cirrhosis and some just one drink a day can cause scarring. It’s not written law.
Hepatitis c (blood borne) is another major cause of cirrhosis. Hepatitis c causes inflammations in the liver and can be transmitted through blood transfusion. That is why blood is also screened for the disease.
It can be treated through drugs but if left untreated it will cause cirrhosis or even liver cancer.
Hepatitis b is caused by Hepatitis B Virus (HBV). It inflames injuring the liver hence causing cirrhosis over a period of time and it can be transmitted through access to a non-infected individual’s mucus membranes or bloodstream (Having unprotected sex or by sharing needles to inject drugs).
A person can be immunized against HBV and it can also be effectively treated through antiviral medication.
Other causes of cirrhosis are; Auto immune hepatitis, fatty liver which is caused by obesity, diabetes, or hypertension, inherited diseases such as glycogen storage diseases and Wilson’s disease (accumulated copper in the liver, brains, and kidneys), blockage of the bile duct and repeated episodes of heart failure.
Overview of the types of cirrhosis
According to Wikipedia these are the four major types of cirrhosis.
Pigment cirrhosis is caused by inability to metabolize iron which accounts for 5-10% of all instances.
Portal or nutritional cirrhosis is mainly caused by alcoholism. About 30-50% of cirrhosis is this type.
Post necrotic is caused by various types of chronic hepatitis. It represents 40% of all cirrhosis.
Biliary cirrhosis is caused by bile-duct diseases that impede bile flow by scarring or blocking these ducts. It affects about 15% to 20% of all cirrhosis patients.
The symptoms of Cirrhosis
Medicinenet.com says Patients of this disease do not show symptoms earlier on but after the disease progresses.
Most of the symptoms develop from complications of the disease because the liver is unable to purify blood, breakdown toxins, produce clotting proteins and absorb fats.
Other symptoms include, abdominal swelling, edema (swelling of legs), gynecomastia (when males start to develop breast tissue), impotence, confusion and forgetfulness, dark urine, jaundice (yellowing of skin), swelling in the lower legs, weakness, fluid buildup in the abdomen, difficulty in thinking, small spider like arteries under the skin, itchy skin and weight loss.
NHS states that an individual has to reduce the quantity and frequency or stop taking alcohol and protect themselves from chronic hepatitis in order to reduce their chances of developing cirrhosis.
Other common preventive measures are;
Going to rehab or getting therapy for alcohol dependency, abstaining or practising safe sex and using new needles, getting immunizations for hepatitis and if infected with hepatitis receiving treatment on time.
Diagnosis of liver cirrhosis
Mayo clinic research indicates that the disease can be first detected through a blood test or physical checkup.
A doctor can observe how the liver feels through a physical test and if cirrhosis is suspected, the patient will be given a blood test for excess bilirubin (shows if red cells have broken down); Creatinine (shows failure of kidney in the late stages of cirrhosis) and enzymes that indicate liver damage and for both hepatitis B and C.
Cirrhosis can also be diagnosed through Computerized tomography (CT scan) or Ultrasound.
In some cases the doctor can also diagnose cirrhosis through taking a sample of the tissues in the liver (biopsy) or surgery.
NHS says there is no cure for Cirrhosis but the treatments can, in some cases prevents or delay more damage to the liver.
Treatment involves medicine and frequent checkups.
Adopting a lifestyle change is also crucial in treating the condition.
Lifestyle changes involve following a low sodium diet to prevent fluid buildup in the body, getting immunized against hepatitis, regular visits to the doctor and stopping alcohol intake.
Treatment for complications of cirrhosis
Cirrhosis can cause other complications that also need to be treated.
Fluid buildup in the belly (ascites). This is life threatening if not controlled. It can be treated by following a low-sodium diet, taking antibiotic and diuretics, removing fluids with a needle (paracentesis), and Transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt TIPS (diverting fluids from the belly).
Bleeding from enlarged veins can be treated by beta-blocker medicines (reduce blood pressure), sclerotherapy to stop bleeding and Balloon therapy where a doctor inserts and inflates a balloon in the lower part of the oesophagus to stop bleeding by pressing against veins.
Changes in the mental function can be treated by eating less proteins Taking lactulose to prevent build up toxins in the large intestine and avoiding sedative medicines.