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November 16, 2020
By: Lorien Strydom
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), cirrhosis is the 12th leading cause of death due to disease in the United States. It’s more likely to affect men than women.
Cirrhosis refers to scarring that results from liver diseases and other causes of liver damage, such as alcohol use disorder. Cystic fibrosis and syphilis may also lead to liver damage and, eventually, cirrhosis.
Your liver can regenerate in response to damage, but this process usually results in the development of scar tissue. The more scar tissue that develops, the harder it is for your liver to function properly.
In its early stages, cirrhosis is often treatable by addressing the underlying cause. But left unmanaged, it can lead to other complications and become life-threatening.
Cirrhosis is the severe scarring of the liver and poor liver function seen at the terminal stages of chronic liver disease. The scarring is most often caused by long-term exposure to toxins such as alcohol or viral infections. The liver is located on the upper right side of the abdomen below the ribs. It has many essential body functions. These include:
The most common causes of cirrhosis in the United States are long-term viral hepatitis C infection and chronic alcohol abuse. Obesity is also a cause of cirrhosis, although it is not as prevalent as alcoholism or hepatitis C. Obesity can be a risk factor by itself, or in combination with alcoholism and hepatitis C.
According to the NIH, cirrhosis can develop in women who drink more than two alcoholic drinks per day (including beer and wine) for many years. For men, drinking more than three drinks a day for years can put them at risk for cirrhosis.
However, the amount is different for every person, and this doesn’t mean that everyone who has ever drunk more than a few drinks will develop cirrhosis. Cirrhosis caused by alcohol is usually the result of regularly drinking more than these amounts over the course of 10 or 12 years.
Hepatitis C can be contracted through sexual intercourse or exposure to infected blood or blood products. It’s possible to be exposed to infected blood through contaminated needles of any source, including tattooing, piercing, intravenous drug abuse, and needle sharing.
Hepatitis C is rarely transmitted by blood transfusion in the United States due to rigorous standards of blood bank screening.
The symptoms of cirrhosis occur because the liver is unable to purify the blood, break down toxins, produce clotting proteins, and help with the absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins. Often there are no symptoms until the disorder has progressed. Some of the symptoms include:
A diagnosis of cirrhosis begins with a detailed history and physical exam. Your doctor will take a complete medical history. The history may reveal long-term alcohol abuse, exposure to hepatitis C, family history of autoimmune diseases, or other risk factors.
Treatment for cirrhosis varies based on what caused it and how far the disorder has progressed. Some treatments your doctor might prescribe include:
All patients must stop drinking alcohol. Medications, even over-the-counter ones, should not be taken without consulting your doctor or pharmacist.
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