Some people ask if cirrhosis and hepatitis, both of which affect the liver, are two different conditions. Medical records say they are, with the former being always serious. To begin with, cirrhosis involves inflammation and scarring of the liver. The damage cirrhosis does to the liver may be permanent. While some of the cells damaged by cirrhosis may undergo regeneration, their nodular pattern often becomes so unusual that it hinders the normal flow of blood through the liver.
In severe cases of cirrhosis of the liver, healthy cells transform into fibrous tissue which, in turn, develops into the scarring characteristic of this liver disease. One of the various types of hepatitis – chronic hepatitis – can lead to cirrhosis of the liver; so can the use of chemicals or drugs. But the principal cause of cirrhosis of the liver is the continual consumption of significantly great amounts of alcohol.
The onset of this liver disease is often characterized by insidiousness. For instance, a person who has the condition may seem well nourished, although that may not really be the case. One obvious symptom of cirrhosis of the liver is retention of salt, resulting to swelling of the legs and abdomen. A dangerous symptom, which requires immediate treatment, is bleeding in the esophagus. This symptom is the result of the elevated blood pressure in the veins located in that muscular tube.
There are other symptoms of cirrhosis of the liver that must be mentioned here: jaundice, or yellowing of the skin; tarry stools and abdominal bleeding, both of which indicate bleeding; appearance of spidery red marks on the chest, arms and face; memory loss and disorientation; and coma in some cases.
It is estimated that fifteen percent of alcoholics develop this liver disease, although the reason for this is not clear. While some researchers say alcohol is solely responsible for the condition, others believe that excessive consumption of alcohol combined with poor eating habits is the most likely cause. Chemical damage from the use of some drugs or from anesthetics can result to cirrhosis of the liver as well.
Blood and urine tests will confirm the existence of cirrhosis. Another test used to check if the liver disease is present is the needle biopsy, in which tissue samples are taken. While a patient with a mild case of cirrhosis may improve, the one who refuses to cooperate with treatment is almost sure to develop a permanently damaged liver. Needless to say, cirrhosis of the liver should be taken seriously, not only for what it has already done to the liver but more importantly for the potential damage the liver disease may cause.
1. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), “Cirrhosis” (online)
2. WebMD, “Cirrhosis of the Liver” (online)