Being diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver can be very scary for the individual and for his or her loved ones. Many questions will come to mind, so discussing the facts and your feelings openly and honestly will help. Having a support system is key to helping the patient feel more comfortable and maintain peace of mind.
Cirrhosis is a type of chronic liver disease that affects more than 4 million people in the United States each year. In Michigan alone, more than 1,300 died of chronic liver disease in 2017.
Although the condition is treatable and oftentimes preventable, it can’t be cured. With treatment and self-care, however, the symptoms can be minimized.
Facts about Cirrhosis
Cirrhosis is when hard tissue replaces soft and healthy tissue, described as the scarring of the liver. As the disease worsens, the liver will have more scarred tissue and less healthy tissue. If left untreated, the liver will no longer be able to work properly.
Cirrhosis is caused by long-term liver disease, but it can take many years for liver damage to lead to cirrhosis. Initial causes of the liver disease include:
- Chronic alcoholism
- Hepatitis C (chronic viral hepatitis)
- Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, which can lead to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis
- Bile duct disease
- Genetic disease such as Wilson disease, hemochromatosis, and glycogen storage diseases
Many people do not realize they have liver disease until they experience symptoms of cirrhosis. As cirrhosis only occurs in advanced stages of liver disease, this reinforces the importance of regular physicals with a primary care physician, which can help detect problems earlier.
Cirrhosis symptoms include:
- Bleeding or bruising easily
- Swelling in the legs or abdomen due to water buildup
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes, known as jaundice
- Itchy skin
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Blockages of blood vessels leading to your liver
- Sensitivity to medications
- Joint pain
- Elevated body temperature
- Insulin resistance and the development of type 2 diabetes
- Buildup of toxins in the brain
- Enlarged spleen
Treatment & Management
The goal of treatment is to minimize symptoms, to keep the disease from getting worse, and to try to stop or slow the damage by protecting the healthy liver tissue. Treatments include the use of medications and lifestyle changes, including:
- Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly
- Limiting salt intake to prevent or reduce fluid buildup
- Avoiding raw shellfish
- Stopping alcohol consumption
- Talking with your doctor about all of the medications, vitamins, and supplements you take, as well as about hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccinations
- Practicing safe sex
- Using clean needles for tattoos or piercings
- Not sharing needles, razors, toothbrushes, or other personal items with others
Liver transplants may also be required, especially in more advanced cases known as End-Stage Liver Disease. The life expectancy for someone with cirrhosis and no major complications is more than 12 years, but it can be less for individuals in advanced stages or who have complications.
Chronic Liver Disease Treatment at Insight
Here at Insight Surgical Hospital, we specialize in chronic liver disease treatment and many other gastrointestinal health issues. We focus on treating the whole person with a goal of creating a better prognosis.
To learn more or speak with one of our physicians, message us through our website.