The liver is a large organ in the abdomen underneath the right rib cage, and it’s a vital part of the human body. It plays a significant role in the digestive and circulatory systems, helping to process both foods as well as chemicals that the body needs. When the liver becomes damaged, the consequences are felt throughout the body.
Cirrhosis is a condition where the liver becomes fibrotic, or heavily scarred as a result of illness or injury. Hepatitis viruses, excessive alcohol consumption, fatty liver disease, and other disorders can injure the liver and result in cirrhosis. The liver becomes inflamed and damaged. Over time, the scar tissue forms nodules and cirrhosis.
The liver helps produce substances required by the body, like clotting and other important proteins; it removes toxic substances like drugs that can harm the body; it produces bile to aid in the digestion of food, and it regulates glucose and lipids that the body uses as fuel. A liver with cirrhosis can’t perform any of those functions adequately.
Patients with cirrhosis often have some risk factors associated with liver disease. Not all patients with these risk factors will develop cirrhosis, but it’s worth investigating if you have any of these risk factors:
The liver plays a role in many body systems and impacts many more because of its role in processing substances in the blood. As a result, a condition like cirrhosis of the liver may cause complications in the rest of the body. These are some of the more serious complications of cirrhosis:
Most liver disease patients don’t experience any symptoms in the early stages. Fatigue can be common in the early stages of cirrhosis, but most symptoms don’t show up until later. Advanced cirrhosis is when complications develop and it becomes less likely that the damage can be undone, although the progression of the disease may be slowed or even halted with treatment. Some of the other common symptoms of liver disease and cirrhosis complications include:
There are several methods for diagnosing cirrhosis. It is sometimes diagnosed by imaging tests that look for a nodular (shrunken) liver appearance: CT scans, ultrasounds, and MRIs can all be used. FibroScan can also be used in cirrhosis diagnosis and for learning more about a patient’s liver disease stage. A patient’s health history, a physical examination, or certain blood tests can also suggest a cirrhosis diagnosis. Cirrhosis can also be diagnosed or confirmed by a liver biopsy, but this test is often unnecessary.
Treatment for cirrhosis is designed to prevent further liver damage, treat the complications, and prevent or detect liver cancer. Your gastroenterologist may prescribe upper endoscopies for screening purposes. Cirrhosis patients should be screened for liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, in particular, every six to twelve months at a minimum and tested further if a lesion is seen. Liver transplantation could be a viable treatment option for some patients, but some patients aren’t good candidates for surgery—this is a decision that your healthcare team can help you make. Finally, there might be experimental cirrhosis treatment options available for some patients. Arizona Liver Health is engaged in clinical trials to discover treatments for many liver diseases and conditions, which can give patients state-of-the-art care options.
Preventing cirrhosis centers around treating the underlying cause of liver disease. It is often possible to slow, stop or even reverse liver damage prior to the development of advanced liver disease.
Cirrhosis is a life-changing condition, but early detection and treatment can limit and sometimes reverse further damage. Arizona Liver Health can help patients receive better outcomes and treatment for liver disease. Patients receive compassionate and state-of-the-art care from our Chandler, Glendale, and Tucson clinic locations. Arizona Liver Health works closely with other healthcare providers to implement care recommendations and keep everyone on the same page. To refer a patient or schedule an appointment, call 480-470-4000 or fill out an online contact form.