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Cirrhosis Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Cirrhosis Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Cirrhosis, also known as end-stage liver disease, refers to the impaired liver function that results from fibrosis, or liver scar tissue, due to the damage caused by liver disease.

There are many causes and forms of liver disease, some of which we will explore in this article, but each time your liver is injured by disease or another cause it will attempt to repair itself. This reparation process results in the formation of scar tissue which is not inherently bad.

What makes scar tissue on the liver harmful is when it reaches a level of presence that impedes the ability of the liver to perform its normal functions. What is even more concerning is that once the damage is done, it cannot simply be healed.

The damage is there to stay.

When this condition becomes advanced enough, it can be life-threatening.

However, if liver cirrhosis is caught and diagnosed early enough in its existence, then it is possible to limit further damage and reduce the connected possible health deficits.

Now that we’ve established that cirrhosis is quite serious, let’s present a clear guide to understanding the symptoms, an explanation of the causes of cirrhosis, and an exploration of the available treatments available for handling this liver problem.

cirrhosis_symptoms

Symptoms of Cirrhosis

Unfortunately, symptoms of cirrhosis can be quite difficult to notice for the person suffering from it. Only when the damage is quite extensive will the patient notice at which point it is normally too late for the liver to recover.

When the condition is serious enough to the point where it is not reversible, there is a multitude of symptoms that one may experience.

Just five of them may include easily bleeding or bruising, swelling in the legs due to oedema, yellow discolouration in the skin and eyes known as jaundice, absence of periods for women, and loss of sex drive for men.

There are a host of other symptoms but the few listed above paint a picture of the seriousness with which this condition should be treated.

In other words, all precautions should be taken to ensure that one does not develop cirrhosis as the damage will cause extensive bodily harm with no real treatment available to reverse the damage.

Causes of Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis can be caused by a number of conditions but there are several lifestyle or other factors that can increase the likelihood of developing liver disease and the associated liver scarring.

These are called risk factors and the first one on the list is drinking too much alcohol. This is a direct risk factor for cirrhosis with excessive alcohol consumption causing significant liver damage.

Another culprit is being overweight. While simply being overweight does not cause excessive liver scarring, it does increase one’s risk of developing conditions that have the potential to result in cirrhosis.

One such weight-related disease is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.

The last risk factor worth mentioning here is that of viral hepatitis. While not a sure-fire way to develop cirrhosis, viral hepatitis is one of the world’s leading causes of liver disease.

cirrhosis_liver

Treatment of Cirrhosis

Prevention is better than cure, always, so it’s worth looking at a couple of preventive measures that can be taken to lower one’s risk of developing cirrhosis.

Ultimately, it comes down to looking after your liver which can be done in several ways:

  • Eat a healthy diet. Advice just about as old as modern medicine itself, a healthy diet is essential for a healthy body and, by obvious association, a healthy liver. In general, a plant-based diet should be followed with a high percentage of fruits and vegetables. Whole grains and lean sources of meat should be selected over simple sugars and fatty foods.
  • Reduce your risk of hepatitis. As mentioned earlier, hepatitis is a leading cause of liver disease. As such, all precautions should be taken to prevent contracting hepatitis.
  • Reduce alcohol consumption. If one already has cirrhosis, then alcohol should be avoided at all costs. Reducing one’s alcohol consumption, even when one does not have cirrhosis, is a wise choice with many parts of the body guaranteed a better chance at increased health and maintained optimal functioning.

Were one to develop cirrhosis, there are several viable treatment options which we will discuss below.

Generally, treatment depends on the causes of cirrhosis and the extent to which it has damaged one’s liver already.

Treatments seek to slow scar tissue progression while lowering the occurrence of, or eliminating entirely, the associated symptoms.

Underlying Cirrhosis Cause Treatment

This treatment is effective in the earlier stages of cirrhosis when the tissue scarring has not become too severe.

If alcohol is the chief cause of cirrhosis, then one’s doctor would recommend drastically reducing alcohol intake.

If the patient is unable to do this then the doctor may recommend a treatment program for alcohol addiction.

One of the jobs the liver performs in cleansing the blood is detoxifying it of alcohol. If cirrhosis is already present, then alcohol is toxic to the liver as it is unable to be processed.

When cirrhosis is caused by non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, patients have the potential to become healthier by losing weight and asserting back control of their blood sugar levels.

Lastly, medications that control other causes of cirrhosis and treat the symptoms of cirrhosis may be given to slow its progression.

Cirrhosis Complications and Treatment

As oedema is a common symptom of cirrhosis, a low-sodium diet and medication to prevent fluid build-up in the body may help control the swelling. If the fluid retention is severe, however, then procedures may be required to drain the fluid.

Hepatic encephalopathy is where reduced brain function results from severe liver disease. In this case, one’s doctor may prescribe medication to assist in reducing toxin build-up in the blood due to the large decrease in liver function.

Infections are another common complication that may arise due to liver cirrhosis. Doctors will prescribe antibiotics in this case along with a recommendation for vaccinations for pneumonia, hepatitis, and influenza.

Liver Transplant Surgery

Cirrhosis is one of the most common reasons for a liver transplant. This procedure is required when the liver stops functioning due to the severity of the condition.

It’s performed by replacing one’s liver with a healthy liver from a deceased donor or with a part of the liver from a living person.

This is the last resort and potential recipients require extensive testing to ascertain whether they are healthy enough to have a high likelihood of a good outcome. One of the many requirements of alcohol-induced cirrhosis patients is a lifelong commitment to alcohol abstinence.

Summary

Cirrhosis is a severe form of liver disease where tissue scarring has greatly impacted the normal functioning of the liver.

While the damage cannot be reversed, there are a number of preventive measures which can be taken to reduce the likelihood of developing cirrhosis such as reducing alcohol consumption, following a healthy diet, and avoiding infections.

In severe cases, liver transplants are currently the only way to replace a liver that can no longer function.

It is best to diagnose cirrhosis as early as possible so that measures can be taken to reduce the damage and increase the longevity of the liver.

If you would like to book an appointment with a gastrointestinal (GI) specialist or would simply like more information on a particular GI topic, don’t hesitate to use our online booking form or call Dr. Deetlefs at 021 551 8678.

 

DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ CAREFULLY

The information on this website is to provide general guidance. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive medical advice and self-diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. It is important to consult a Gastroenterologist or medical doctor regarding ANY and ALL symptoms or signs including, but not limited to: abdominal pain, haemorrhoids or anal / rectal bleeding as it may a sign of a serious illness or condition. A thorough consultation and examination should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call a physician or call our office today and schedule a consultation.

GIDoc Cape Town

Patient-focused GI treatments and procedures in Cape Town.

Monday-Friday 8AM-4PM.

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© Dr. Eduan Deetlefs, Registered Gastroenterologist, GI Doc Cape Town

Our website information is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a doctor about your specific condition. Only a trained physician can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.

Fatty Liver Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Fatty Liver Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

After a long week’s work, all you want to do on a Friday night is to eat out, drink, and have fun with your colleagues or friends.

The night gets long, you go home tired, and while resting, your liver works harder.

The liver is the body’s largest internal organ which is about the size of a football. The liver is the body’s blood purifier.  Without it, our bodies will be filled with toxins that will make us sick.

Its primary functions are to:

  • filter and get rid of the toxins and other blood impurities;
  • produce and excrete bile that helps with digestion by breaking down fat in the small intestine;
  • make blood plasma proteins;
  • convert excess glucose into glycogen for storage that can be later turned back into glucose for energy as needed;
  • manage blood clotting; and
  • metabolize fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.

Because of these functions, the liver is one of the organs that are most subject to abuse and damage. One of the most common liver diseases is the fatty liver disease (FLD) or hepatic steatosis.

What is Fatty Liver Disease?

FLD is a condition where excess fat builds up in the liver. It happens when the liver cannot metabolize fat, resulting in the fat not being excreted out of the body.

There are two types of FLD: non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD). By the names of it, NAFLD is acquired by those who drink little to no alcohol and the latter is from consuming too much alcohol over time.

Fatty liver is actually the earliest stage of liver disease.

Having a fatty liver is not life-threatening, but neglecting this condition can lead to other more serious conditions such as liver cirrhosis and even cancer.

 

 

 

What are the Causes and Risk Factors of FLD?

 

The excess or build-up of fat in the liver can be caused by various habits and medical conditions. The causes can be:

  • Alcohol Abuse
    When metabolizing alcohol in the liver, toxic metabolites are produced. This commonly happens to chronic alcoholics.
  • Metabolism-Related Disease
    FLD can be caused by existing disorders such as abetalipoproteinemia or the disorder when proper absorption of fat and fat-soluble vitamins from food is obstructed.Another example is glycogen storage disease when the synthesis or metabolism of glycogen is affected by enzyme deficiencies.Because heh body is an interconnected system of organs, problems with metabolism can affect the liver and cause FLD and other liver diseases.
  • Nutrition-Related Factors
    Obesity or excess accumulation of fat in the body can also cause FLD. Other factors include high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and high levels of triglycerides in the blood.Triglycerides are also known as lipids or a type of fat. When you eat, the calories that your body does not immediately need are converted to triglycerides and stored in fat cells. These are later released for your body’s energy in between meals.Rapid weight loss and malnutrition can also cause FLD.
  • Drugs and Toxins Intake
    Fatty liver disease can sometimes be a side effect of medications and drug intake, as well as exposure to toxins.

While chronic alcohol intake is one of the major causes of FLD, some people develop FLD even when they do not have the mentioned habits and medical conditions.
Some factors increase the risk of having a fatty liver including the following:

  • obesity
  • chronic viral hepatitis
  • genetics
  • old age
  • removed gallbladder
  • polycystic ovary syndrome
  • sleep apnea
  • type II Diabetes
  • hypothyroidism
  • hypopituitarism

How Serious is a Fatty Liver?

If fat is detected in the liver biopsy but the liver is not swollen and has no tissue damage, the diagnosis may be non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

This is a simple fatty liver and nothing serious. But you need to treat it before it develops into serious liver diseases.

Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH is one of the serious liver diseases.
It is diagnosed if you have fat in the liver, and the organ is swollen and damaged.
When liver damage from NASH is left untreated, it can lead to much more serious liver diseases like cancer.

Permanent scarring (fibrosis) to the liver that causes it to harden is cirrhosis or liver cancer.

In a 2010 study of NAFLD in Western Cape, South Africa, 48% of the 233 screened patients had NAFLD, of whom 36% had NASH and 17% had advanced liver fibrosis.

 

 

What are the Symptoms of FLD?

FLD usually gives no symptoms. People often learn about their fatty liver because of medical exams for other reasons or during their annual physical and medical tests.

The liver is situated in the upper right abdomen, below the lungs, and on top of the stomach. This is the part that throbs, hurts, or feels tired that may indicate damage to the liver.

In cases of fatty liver disease that has developed into a serious condition like non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), the following symptoms may be experienced:

  • Swollen belly
  • Enlarged bloodvessels underneath the skin that appear to be spiderlike
  • Larger-than-normal breasts in men
  • Red palms
  • Skin and eyesthat appear yellowish.

 

How is FLD Diagnosed?

You may experience no symptoms that will directly relate to fatty liver disease so it is best to have yourself checked annually or whenever you deem necessary.

Detection of a probable FLD can be through a blood sample or an imaging test.

If there is something unusual in the blood test results or the liver appears slightly enlarged in an imaging test, your doctor may recommend the following procedures to diagnose FLD:

  • Lifestyle and Health History
    Your doctor may ask about your alcohol drinking habits, eating habits, and if you have relatives who had liver diseases. Your doctor may also ask about your other medical conditions that may have caused FLD.
  • Imaging Test
    Fat in the liver appears bright in an ultrasound. Other imaging tests such as CT scans or magnetic resonance imaging can also show fat in the liver.
  • Physical Exam
    Your doctor may inspect your body and look for symptoms such as swollen belly or jaundice, a condition that causes a yellow pigmentation in the skin and the sclera (white part in the eyes), among others.

 

  • Serology or blood test.
    High levels of specific enzymes indicate a problem in the liver.
    Serology is also used to eliminate possibilities of other diseases such as hepatitis.
  • Liver biopsy.
    Your doctor may recommend this if a serious condition of fatty liver disease is suspected.
    In a liver biopsy, a sample of liver tissue is collected and examined.

It is also best to talk to your doctor about other symptoms you may have been experiencing like fatigue, loss of appetite, etc.

You can also ask your doctor about clarifications and the next steps if you will be diagnosed with FLD.

 

Fatty Liver Disease_cape_town

 

How is Fatty Liver Disease Treated?

A simple case of fatty liver disease can be treated by correcting habits and making lifestyle changes to control fat accumulation in the liver.

A proper and balanced diet is a good start. You also need to decrease your calorie intake, cut back on your sugar, and exercise regularly.

Avoid alcohol or drink in moderation whether you have alcoholic or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Always check your medicines or prescriptions from other conditions before mixing them with alcohol. Mixing drugs and alcohol can cause damage to the liver.

If you drink heavily or think you are suffering from alcoholism, you can confidentially disclose this to your doctor.

This way, your medication and treatment can address both the fatty liver disease and alcoholism and other issues that may hamper your recovery and affect your overall health.

Contact Dr. Deetlefs today for an appointment in Cape Town.

DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ CAREFULLY

The information on this website is to provide general guidance. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive medical advice and self-diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. It is important to consult a Gastroenterologist or medical doctor regarding ANY and ALL symptoms or signs including, but not limited to: abdominal pain, haemorrhoids or anal / rectal bleeding as it may a sign of a serious illness or condition. A thorough consultation and examination should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call a physician or call our office today and schedule a consultation.

GIDoc Cape Town

Patient-focused GI treatments and procedures in Cape Town.

Monday-Friday 8AM-4PM.

Connect with Us

© Dr. Eduan Deetlefs, Registered Gastroenterologist, GI Doc Cape Town

Our website information is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a doctor about your specific condition. Only a trained physician can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.