Cirrhosis is a serious degenerative disorder of the liver. Scar tissue builds up on the interior due to damage accumulated over the years, resulting in reduced organ function. Since the liver produces blood components, stores nutrients, processes sugars, and breaks down fat, reduced function results in secondary symptoms that can become debilitating.
Many of the earliest symptoms of cirrhosis are so non-specific it’s hard to pinpoint that the liver is the cause.
Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, is a relatively specific symptom.
General fatigue and muscle weakness is harder to pin down to liver disease, while persistent itching with no accompanying rash or skin infection is a clear cirrhosis sign. Finally, people with severely scarred livers will bruise easily and heal more slowly due to impaired blood clotting abilities.
Cirrhosis can be caused by chronic liver diseases that cause damage to healthy tissue in the liver, such as chronic alcohol abuse, hepatitis B, C and D and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Drinking too much alcohol causes swelling of the liver and over time this can lead to cirrhosis. Less common causes of cirrhosis include bile duct disease (primary biliary cirrhosis and primary sclerosing cholangitis), cystic fibrosis, medications like schistosomiasis, genetic digestive disorder, iron buildup in the body, and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
Genetic diseases such as glycogen storage disease, Wilson disease, Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, and hemochromatosis can all lead to cirrhosis.
Immediate responses to cirrhosis involve lifestyle changes to reduce the damage building up on the liver. For example, alcoholics or people taking organ damaging medications must take immediate measures to stop the degradation of the remaining liver tissue. You’ll need medical support for these lifestyle changes to make sure they’re not shocking the liver further with strain on your system.
Medications to help support your liver function and improve your ability to process sugars and fats can help when cirrhosis damage is still mild to moderate. At the severe stage, cirrhosis requires a liver transplant to cure. Avoiding liver damaging diseases like hepatitis and diabetes and seeking treatment immediately if you do get sick can prevent cirrhosis.
Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in fatty and fried foods can prevent cirrhosis. Be sure to limit your sodium intake as well. Too much salt can cause your body to retain fluids and make any swelling worse. Rather than seasoning your food with salt, try to substitute it with herbs instead. Maintaining a healthy weight can also prevent cirrhosis. Too much body fat can cause liver damage, so keeping a lean, trim body will help you reduce your risk of cirrhosis.
Avoid infections as much as you can by washing your hands frequently throughout the day. Getting vaccinated for hepatitis A and B, as well as pneumonia and influenza can help you avoid cirrhosis. Avoid sharing needles and having unprotected sex because you increase your risk goes up for hepatitis B and C.
If you already have cirrhosis, you can prevent any further liver damage by managing your condition. Avoid sharing toothbrushes, razors, or any other personal items with other people. Managing your condition properly is important to avoid further possible complications, such as portal hypertension, malnutrition, jaundice, acute-on-chronic liver failure, and bone disease. You also have an increased risk of liver cancer and certain infections.