10 Common Symptoms Of Cirrhosis, Its Potential Complications, And Ways To Reduce The Risk Of The Disease

Date December 29, 2017

Your liver takes part in a lot of important functions in your body, including digestion, production of hormones, and removing waste products from the blood. This organ is also incredibly good at repairing itself if it is healthy. Long-term damage to the liver can lead to cirrhosis, in which healthy liver cells are replaced with scar tissue.The condition impairs liver function and can eventually lead to the organ's failure, which can be fatal. Cirrhosis is the twelfth leading cause of death in the United States. The disease takes the lives of about 32,000 Americans every year.

Damage caused by cirrhosis is irreversible, so the treatment focuses on preventing further damage and related complications, as well as managing symptoms. Once the liver is no longer able to function, a transplant is needed.

Symptoms of cirrhosis

Cirrhosis shows no symptoms at the beginning.

As the disease gets worse, the following symptoms start to appear:

  • weakness and tiredness;
  • nausea;
  • loss of appetite and weight;
  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes);
  • itchy skin;
  • bleeding and bruising more easily;
  • abdominal swelling due to fluid buildup (ascites);
  • swelling in the legs due to fluid buildup;
  • spider angiomas (spiderlike blood vessels visible on the skin);
  • confusion and trouble thinking (due to accumulation of toxins in the brain – hepatic encephalopathy).

See your doctor as soon as possible if you have such symptoms.

Causes of cirrhosis

Cirrhosis often develops due to drinking heavily for many years or long-term hepatitis C.

The following can also contribute to the development of cirrhosis:

  • non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH);
  • chronic hepatitis B;
  • autoimmune hepatitis, in which the immune system attacks healthy liver cells;
  • cystic fibrosis;
  • diseases that affect the bile ducts, including primary biliary cirrhosis;
  • Wilson’s disease, in which copper accumulates in the liver and other organs;
  • hemochromatosis, in which iron builds up in the liver and other organs;
  • hepatitis D and E, which are less common types of viral hepatitis;
  • prolonged use of certain medicines;
  • prolonged exposure to poisonous chemicals.

Complications of cirrhosis

Cirrhosis puts you at a higher risk of liver cancer.

Other potential complications of the disease include the following:

  • increased blood pressure in the veins that transport blood to the liver (portal hypertension);
  • spontaneous bacterial peritonitis, a potentially life-threatening infection;
  • internal bleeding, especially in the esophagus and stomach;
  • enlarged spleen (splenomegaly);
  • susceptibility to infections;
  • hepatic encephalopathy, which manifests in confusion, problems with memory and concentration, changes in personality, and changes in sleep cycle;
  • bone weakness and susceptibility to fractures;
  • hepatopulmonary syndrome (lung failure);
  • hepatorenal syndrome (kidney failure);
  • worsening of side effects of certain medicines;
  • insulin resistance and diabetes.

Prevention of cirrhosis

Inherited disorders that lead to cirrhosis cannot be prevented. But there are certain measures you can take to reduce your risk of the disease.

They include:

  • abstaining from alcohol or at least drinking no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman and two drinks a day if you’re a man;
  • eating a diet with plenty of vegetables and whole grains, and less saturated fat;
  • staying at a healthy weight;
  • drinking moderate amounts of caffeinated coffee, as some evidence suggests;
  • getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and B;
  • getting regular medical checkups, especially if you’re at an increased risk;
  • managing conditions that increase the risk of cirrhosis.

Source: NIDDK, NHS UK, Mayo Clinic, MedicineNet, HealthLine

READ ALSO: 11 Warning Symptoms Of Hepatic Failure And How People Might Keep Their Liver Healthy

This article is purely for informational purposes. Do not self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for harm that may result from using the information stated in the article.