Cirrhosis is a condition in which normal, healthy liver cells are damaged and replaced by scar tissue. A cirrhosis-damaged liver can cause widespread disruption of many body functions. But despite damage to the liver, this vital organ can still perform some of its functions. Patients with cirrhosis often lead full, healthy lives for many years.
Cirrhosis has many causes, but perhaps the most common is excessive intake of alcohol. Other causes include various liver diseases such as viral hepatitis, hemochromatosis, Wilson’s disease, alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, autoimmune hepatitis, and biliary atresia. Some people have a severe reaction to certain drugs and this can also cause cirrhosis.
Hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV) are forms of viral hepatitis that can cause inflammation of the liver leading to cirrhosis. HBV and HCV can go undiagnosed for long periods of time because the liver is a non-complaining organ. Blood tests that identify elevated liver enzymes are usually the first indication of a problem.
Although most of the side effects of cirrhosis are treatable, currently, there is no cure for cirrhosis. Doctors can delay its progress, minimize liver cell damage, and reduce the complications of the disease. Beta blocker drugs can reduce portal hypertension and diuretics are often prescribed to remove excess fluid that accumulates in the ankles or the abdomen. Reducing salt in the diet can also be helpful.
If a person has cirrhosis as a result of hepatitis B or C, the doctor may administer anti-viral drugs to reduce liver cell injury. The treatment is given by injection and may have a number of side effects such as flu-like symptoms, headaches, and nausea. Research has recently discovered some promising new treatments, which are being tested in clinical studies. A growing number of scientific investigators are conducting liver research, providing hope for new breakthroughs in treatment and cures for hepatitis and more than 100 known liver diseases.