Liver cirrhosis is most commonly caused by excessive alcohol consumption, and it’s a very serious and often fatal disease. The liver is a vital organ of the human body. Without it, your body cannot function well, and in the worst cases, a compromised liver or liver failure can lead to death if you don’t get a liver transplant. The liver is part of the digestive system, and it is located in the right upper quadrant of your abdomen. It secretes bile for digestion and processes harmful substances with the urea cycle for elimination via urine.
The liver also plays a major role in the metabolic process as it regulates glycogen stores used to fuel your body. Additionally, this vital organ produces certain crucial hormones and plays a part in the decomposition of red blood cells.
Injuries to the liver can lead to scarring (fibrosis). Over time, this can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, very adversely affecting your overall health. Studies show that liver disease is responsible for approximately 2 million deaths globally per year. That alarmingly large number should make you feel concerned because liver cirrhosis can happen to anyone. Those who abuse alcohol are at higher risk of liver cirrhosis, but alcoholics aren’t the only people at risk.
The mortality rate aligns with the progression of the disease because once cirrhosis of the liver sets in, the condition cannot be reversed. Whatever damage and scar tissue your liver sustains are permanent. If you catch cirrhosis early, doctors can work to slow down the progression of the disease. Find out more about this condition below and how you can prevent its onset.
What Exactly is Liver Cirrhosis?
When you are diagnosed with liver cirrhosis, it means you are in the late stage of liver disease and its complications. This means healthy liver tissue is bombarded with scar tissue, keeping it from working properly and permanently damaging the organ.
Many liver diseases and certain conditions can injure a healthy liver. For example, excessive alcohol consumption and a fatty liver due to excessive fat in the diet can cause your liver to get inflamed. Your liver cells will attempt to heal themselves, and this results in tissue scarring.
The scar tissue then blocks proper blood flow into the liver. Thus, it impedes the liver’s ability to process nutrients, eliminate toxins, and produce hormones. Eventually, it results in cell death, with cirrhosis keeping the liver from working correctly. It can be fatal once you get to late-stage cirrhosis, and the only solution is a transplant.
What are the Symptoms of Liver Cirrhosis?
The signs of the disease will depend on the stage. In the early stages of cirrhosis, you may not know it’s there because you may not even feel symptoms. And if you do feel that something is off with your body, you mistakenly attribute it to fatigue or some other illness. Early symptoms of cirrhosis are:
- Lack of appetite
- Feeling weak
- Unexpected weight loss
As cirrhosis progresses, your liver’s function becomes worse. From here, you will notice more complex symptoms, including the following:
- Easy bruising
- Quick to bleed
- Jaundice (yellow skin) and yellow sclera (white part) of the eyes
- Itchy skin
- Edema or swelling in extremities
- Ascites or fluid build up in the abdomen and belly
- Orange, brown, or odd coloured urine
- Light-colored stools
- Blood in stool
- Red palms
- Neuro problems like confusion, memory loss and difficulty thinking
- Personality changes
- Spider-like blood vessels on the skin
- Loss of sex drive in men with shrunken testicles and enlarged breasts
- Premature menopause in women
What are the Treatment Options?
Treatment depends on the root cause of cirrhosis. It will also vary depending on the extent of liver damage and other health complications that may have cropped up with a failing liver. But in general, most patients are asked to:
- Stop alcohol consumption completely
- Eat healthy food that’s low in fat
- Reduce your weight
- Don’t consume undercooked food
- Take prescribed medication as instructed
- Go to the doctor for regular checkups
Sadly, if your liver fails, a liver transplant is the only option to extend your life. Many people with cirrhosis of the liver will, unfortunately, die of this condition before they get a liver transplant. The waitlist for a liver transplant is much, much longer than they have left to live in many cases.
Who is Most at Risk to Suffer From Liver Cirrhosis?
Unfortunately, every person is at risk of liver disease, especially if they do not follow a healthy diet with exercise. However, you are more likely to develop severe liver cirrhosis if you are:
- Abusing alcohol for years
- Eating too much fatty food (or eating a generally unhealthy diet)
- Exceeding your BMI levels and are obese
- Injecting drugs using shared needles
- Having viral hepatitis
- Suffering from diabetes
- Engaging in unprotected sex
- Having a family history of liver disease
Cirrhosis is not an inherited disease, but some of the diseases that cause damage to your liver leading to cirrhosis may be traced in your family medical history. Examples of hereditary diseases leading to liver cirrhosis are genetic digestive disorders or hereditary hemochromatosis, where an iron overload in the blood leads to liver damage.
How to Prevent the Onset of Cirrhosis
If you want to protect your liver against cirrhosis, you must make lifestyle changes. By taking the following steps, you can care for your liver, prevent damage, impede scarring, and keep cirrhosis at bay:
Stop Excessive Alcohol Consumption
Every drop of alcohol you drink passes through the liver. And the organ can only process a certain amount at a time. Usually, it takes the body about one hour to process a single serving of alcohol. Thus, if you drink excessively, your liver overworks to process your blood alcohol content. Eventually, overworking can result in damage.
If you have an alcohol addiction, now is the time to rethink your habits. Signs of addiction include jaundice, abdominal pain, loose tools, decreased appetite, and general unwellness. It also feels as if you cannot get through the day without taking a drink. You must curtail this bad habit because studies show that 50% of cases with end-stage liver cirrhosis in western countries are due to excessive alcohol consumption.
For this reason, patients who are candidates for liver transplants must stay sober for 6 months to a year because (depending on the hospital) before they qualify to get a transplant. The wait ensures the patient kicks the drinking habit completely because the alcohol relapse rate is high. Sadly, many die while waiting for liver transplantation because they cannot eliminate their alcohol addiction.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Your liver doesn’t fail overnight. However, eating too many treats over time means that your diet can eventually damage your liver and kill you. Excess calories add up, and they need to go somewhere. Unfortunately, your liver happens to be one of those places where fat invades the cells.
If you combine excessive food indulgence with poor physical activity, you stockpile fat into your liver. It gets overwhelmed, damaged, inflamed. This leads to scarring, and eventually, you acquire Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.
On top of that, you can also develop NASH or Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis. Overindulging with massive amounts of food can result in hepatitis. Since your digestive organs cannot handle the food, your liver scars and accumulate permanent damage. When this happens, it’s game over because your liver cells get replaced with useless scar tissue. With a failing liver, the only solution is a transplant.
Thus, you must do the following to take care of your liver:
- Lose weight
- Eat more fruits and veggies
- Remove sugary drinks and treats from your diet
- Exercise more
- Take a high-quality multivitamin to fill nutrient gaps
Reduce Risk of Acquiring Hepatitis
One of the primary culprits of liver damage is acquired hepatitis B and C. You can get by sharing needles with drug use or from unprotected sex. Thus, never share needles and always use protection. For best results, speak with your doctor about receiving hepatitis vaccinations so your body can produce antibodies to help ward off the disease.
Speak With Your Doctor About Preventive Care
If you feel very concerned about your risk of liver cirrhosis, you must speak with your primary care physician so you can find ways to minimize the risks. Again, suffering from liver disease doesn’t happen overnight. It can take decades for your body to progress to cirrhosis.
Though that may seem like a far-fetched idea, everything hinges on what you do daily. Your habits could actually be damaging your liver. Remember, as your liver slowly decays, your quality of life will also drop. Hence, do your best today, so you don’t regret anything later on, and lament that you should have taken care of your body better.
Instead, do everything that you can in the present to protect your health and wellness. Focus on preventive health, so you don’t have to worry about treatments and solutions. If you want personalized health reports that offer insight into your future health, consider taking a CircleDNA test.
This innovative screening will examine your unique DNA and reveal genetic health risk factors that you may possibly face, including an elevated risk of cirrhosis. With these insightful reports, you can make lifestyle changes, may it be to your diet or exercise routine. As you embark on a holistic health journey, having factual information about genetic risk factors can help you make educated decisions that ensure you live a truly fruitful life.