Many conditions can damage the liver, whether it be non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) or chronic alcoholism. Each time the liver is injured, it tries to repair itself, and scar tissue is formed in the process. Without treatment, permanent damage can lead to a condition called cirrhosis. If your liver is consumed by cirrhosis, your health is at stake.
Symptoms and Stages
If cirrhosis is allowed to progress, more and more scar tissue forms, eventually replacing the healthy tissue. This makes it difficult for the liver to function. The most common causes of cirrhosis of the liver are alcohol abuse and chronic viral infections of the liver like hepatitis B and C. Fatty liver associated with obesity and diabetes and not alcohol is also a top cause. This is called NASH.
Early on, most people don’t know anything is wrong since there are often no signs and symptoms at first. When they do occur, they include:
- Easily bleeding or bruising
- Loss of appetite
- Swelling in your legs, feet, or ankles (edema)
- Weight loss
- Itchy skin
- Yellow discoloration in the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Fluid accumulation in your abdomen
- Spiderlike blood vessels on your skin
- Confusion, drowsiness, and slurred speech
There are hundreds of different kinds of liver diseases, but most follow the same progression path in stages. Cirrhosis is in the later stages of liver disease and is classified into two main categories:
- Compensated cirrhosis: This means you have cirrhosis, but you don’t yet have noticeable symptoms (you are asymptomatic). Your lab work and imaging may show abnormal findings, and further testing may be ordered to confirm.
- Decompensated cirrhosis: This means you have noticeable symptoms.
- You have at least one complication such as jaundice, ascites, hepatic encephalopathy, hepatorenal syndrome, variceal bleeding, or liver cancer.
Depending on the underlying cause of your cirrhosis, there may be steps you can take to keep it from getting worse. These actions include:
- Stop drinking alcohol
- Avoid medications that stress the liver
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced, low-fat diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight
There is no cure for cirrhosis, but various therapies can help manage complications, symptoms and treat the condition causing the damage. Scientists are working on expanding current treatments for cirrhosis, which includes focusing on preventing liver disease progression into the later stages. Get involved as a research volunteer today! To learn more about enrolling liver studies here at South Texas Research Institute, call (956) 284-6353, or visit our website for details!