Learn how to spot and prevent liver cirrhosis
Bajaj Finserv Health Team, Gastroenterologist
November 20, 2020
The liver is an internal organ that is responsible for ridding the body of toxins and helping in digestion. Like any other organ, the liver is also susceptible to damage, which is normally brought on by an improper diet, viruses, obesity, or alcohol abuse. Such damage caused over time can have detrimental effects, including liver cirrhosis. Meaning, sustained damage to the liver causes it to scar, shrink and harden, ultimately leading to impaired function.
Additionally, cirrhosis of the liver is an internal condition and there are few to no symptoms that directly indicate any such problem. This begs the question: What are the first signs of cirrhosis of the liver? In most cases, you’re likely to experience symptoms that can be easily mistaken for other illnesses or medical conditions. These include:
- Yellowing of skin
- Easy bruising
- Loss of appetite
While it is likely that these may be signs of other underlying health problems, when any of these persist, you should consult a doctor at the earliest. Medical attention along with the right information about a cirrhotic liver gives you the best chance at getting the right diagnosis and recovering quickly.
To arm you with all the information you’d need, here is detailed breakdown of this condition, right from the causes and treatment to the stages of progression and common symptoms of liver cirrhosis.
Liver cirrhosis causes
With cirrhosis, liver damage has been happening over a sustained period of time and there are numerous factors that are responsible for this. Here are some of the common causes of liver cirrhosis.
- Chronic alcohol abuse
- Hepatitis C
- Hepatitis B
- Autoimmune hepatitis
- Hepatitis D
- Wilson’s disease
- Over-the-counter medication
- Biliary atresia
- Genetic digestive disorders
- Cystic fibrosis
- Primary biliary cirrhosis
While many of the causes are due to medical conditions, chronic alcohol abuse is one that isn’t and should be given special attention. In fact, research has found that regular drinking over the course of several years causes liver cirrhosis.
Liver cirrhosis stages
There are 4 main stages of liver cirrhosis, which in itself is late-stage liver damage. Meaning, once scarring starts to affect liver function, it will gradually worsen if not handled appropriately. Here is a brief explanation of the 4 liver cirrhosis stages.
- Stage 1: Also considered as compensated cirrhosis, the liver has minimal scarring and the afflicted may experience a few symptoms, if any.
- Stage 2: A symptom of this stage is portal hypertension, which is when scarring slows down blood flow in the liver, thus exerting greater pressure on the vein carrying blood from the spleen and intestines. As a result, varices may also develop in this area.
- Stage 3: This is when there is advanced liver scarring and swelling in the abdomen. Also considered as decompensated cirrhosis, at this stage, cirrhosis is not reversible, there are very serious health complications, and the cirrhosis symptoms experienced by the afflicted are obvious. In some cases, it is also possible to experience complete liver failure.
- Stage 4: This is known as end-stage liver disease (ESLD), which is life-threatening and requires a liver transplant as treatment. Without a transplant, this condition can be fatal for the afflicted.
Liver cirrhosis symptoms
While it is important to know what to look out for, it also helps to know why these symptoms occur. With liver cirrhosis, the liver loses its ability to purify blood from toxins, absorb fats, and produce clotting proteins.
As a result, these are the several symptoms and health complications that arise. They are:
- Nose bleeds
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Hepatic encephalopathy
- Muscle cramps
- Bone disease
- Discoloured urine (brown)
- Red palms
- Spiderlike blood vessels
- Irregular menstruation
Some of the symptoms, like ascites, can also lead to other health complications. In the case with ascites, those with cirrhosis may have a tougher time fighting off infection, which makes the body susceptible to bacterial peritonitis. This is a very serious infection that must diagnosed early for recovery. Failing to do so, puts the afflicted in a high-risk category and can prove to be terminal.
Liver cirrhosis treatment
Besides advising weight loss and a complete cut-off from alcohol, doctors may also prescribe specific medication to control liver cirrhosis and its symptoms. Here is what you can expect in terms of treatment.
- Beta blockers: For portal hypertension
- Haemodialysis: To aid blood purification for those with kidney failure
- Lactulose and minimal protein from diet: To treat encephalopathy
- Intravenous antibiotics: For those that develop bacterial peritonitis arising from ascites
- Banding: To keep bleeding in check that may arise due to oesophageal varices
- Liver transplant: For those that have ESLD and as a last resort for treatment
- Anti-viral medication: For those with hepatitis
- Medication: For those with Wilson’s disease, specialised medication may be prescribed to increase the amount of copper being excreted as waste and thus lower the amount in the body
Liver cirrhosis prevention
Preventing liver cirrhosis involves mainly doing all you can to steer clear of the common causes. These are the best approaches you can employ.
- Avoid or minimise alcohol consumption: Alcohol has been found to cause liver damage and limiting exposure to it will help keep your liver in good shape. This is especially important if consuming alcohol is a regular part of your routine as research has found chronic alcohol abuse to be a leading cause.
- Protect yourself against hepatitis: Vaccinate yourself against hepatitis B and be on guard against coming in contact with infected blood to reduce the chances of contracting hepatitis B and C.
- Maintain healthy body weight: Obesity also causes liver damage and opting to stay fit will do wonders to protect you against such conditions. Exercise and healthy eating is a good way to achieve this goal safely, and with lasting results.
- Eat healthy: Avoid fried or overly fatty foods as they exert strain on your liver. Ideally, incorporate a healthy mix of vegetables and consider a plant-based diet.
Dealing with liver cirrhosis is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly and most definitely requires constant medical care. This is mainly due to the fact that mismanagement can draw down serious complications like liver failure, kidney failure, and even cancer. All of these are life-threatening conditions and can be avoided when cirrhosis treatment is administered properly and in time. Thankfully, with the Bajaj Finserv Health app, availing healthcare is easier than ever as it grants access to numerous provisions, all through your smartphone.
With the app, you find the best specialist in your vicinity using the smart search function and also book appointments online, thereby skipping the need to stand in any queues. To add to that, you can also consult with your doctor virtually over video for greater convenience. The Bajaj Finserv Health app also allows you to maintain digital patient records and forward them digitally to healthcare specialists of your choosing. This makes remote healthcare that much more efficient and easy to avail, especially if a physical visit isn’t possible. For access to all these features and more, download the app today for free either from Google Play or the Apple App Store.