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What You Need to Know About Cirrhosis

What You Need to Know About Cirrhosis

Get the must-know facts on the degenerative liver condition.

The liver is the second largest organ of the body, second only to the skin. It processes and stores nutrients from food, including sugar, fat and protein, and delivers those nutrients throughout the body. The liver helps cleanse the body by converting toxins and medications into harmless substances. It also produces bile, which helps digest and absorb fats and remove waste.

What is cirrhosis?
Due to the liver’s vital role in our overall health and wellness, it’s normal to feel concerned when diagnosed with cirrhosis–a condition the causes the liver to break down and scar, losing its ability to function properly. The most common causes of cirrhosis are alcoholism, fatty liver disease and hepatitis B and C. Other factors include:

  • Buildup of fat in the liver, particularly in those that are overweight or diabetic
  • Iron buildup caused by a genetic predisposition
  • Buildup of bile in the liver as a result of other conditions

As the liver deteriorates, living cells die off and in an effort to heal itself, the liver generates scar tissue to take their place–also known as fibrosis. Cirrhosis occurs when the majority of the liver is scarred and becomes stiff, rendering it ineffective in producing the proper nutrients and cleansing toxins from our bodies. While the liver is capable of some self-regeneration, unfortunately, this kind of extensive damage cannot be undone. It’s important to know the signs of cirrhosis and communicate with your doctor to catch and treat it early.

What are the symptoms?
While most people diagnosed with cirrhosis experience little-to-no symptoms in the early stages, there are a few that become evident once the condition progresses:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Itching
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Bloating in abdomen
  • Swelling in the feet or legs
  • Jaundice

A physician can test or diagnose cirrhosis based on preexisting conditions that increase the risk for development, such as heavy drinking or obesity, but cirrhosis is often caught during routine blood screenings or imaging tests. If you sense you may be experiencing these symptoms, contact your doctor so they can arrange some tests like complete blood count (CBC), liver function tests, an abdominal CT scan or maybe a liver biopsy. Depending on the severity of the condition, time is crucial when it comes to diagnosing and treating cirrhosis.

What can I do?
While some risk factors of cirrhosis may be out of your control, there are steps you can take to lower your risk of developing (or worsening) the condition:

  • Stop drinking alcohol altogether
  • Work with your doctor to create a healthy diet plan that’s low in salt, and lose weight, if necessary
  • Get vaccinated for conditions such as hepatitis A and B, and pneumonia
  • Talk to your doctor about all medicines you’re taking, including supplements and over-the-counter meds
  • At the recommendation of your doctor, take prescription medications to treat underlying causes such as hepatitis C and autoimmune disease

Additional treatment options vary depending on the severity and causes of the condition, and whether or not complications have already started to present themselves. Cirrhosis, if caught early enough, could be just a bump on the road. Speak with your doctor frequently and be honest about lifestyle changes and any concerns you may have regarding your health.

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