Cirrhosis is an irreversible scarring of the liver that may be caused by many conditions, including:
- Viral hepatitis B and C
- Excessive use of alcohol
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (the build-up of excess fat in the liver cells)
- Bile duct injuries
- Metabolic conditions including iron and copper overload (a buildup of iron or copper in the body’s organs)
- Autoimmune inflammatory conditions (diseases in which the body’s immune response is directed against its own tissues, causing prolonged inflammation and tissue destruction)
Cirrhosis typically results from many years of disease. A person may have compensated or decompensated cirrhosis, depending on the type of complications.
- In compensated cirrhosis, the liver is heavily scarred but can still perform many important functions.
- In decompensated cirrhosis, the liver is extremely scarred and unable to function properly.
Complications include bleeding in the intestine or varices (dilated blood vessels in the esophagus), jaundice, fluid accumulation in the abdomen (ascites) and accumulation of waste products (leading to mental confusion). Patients with cirrhosis are also at increased risk of developing liver cancer.
Cirrhosis Treatment to Delay Disease Progression
Once cirrhosis occurs, it is irreversible. Treatment can stop or delay further disease progression and reduce complications. Treatment depends on the cause of cirrhosis and the complications a person may be having.
The first part of treatment is to treat the underlying cause of the liver disease.
- For example, hepatitis B and C can be treated with antiviral drugs and autoimmune diseases can be treated with steroids.
- Preventive approaches are also used to avoid further injury to the liver. These include:
- Alcohol avoidance
- Hepatitis vaccination
- Avoiding medications that can be toxic to the liver
- Low-fat diet
The second part of treatment is to monitor the person for complications and, if they are present, begin treatment to manage them.
- Patients with decompensated liver disease (the liver is unable to function properly) usually have a poor long-term survival and should be evaluated for liver transplantation.