Cirrhosis of the liver is a condition characterized by scarring of the liver, which is essential to proper functioning of the body. The liver is responsible for cleaning the blood and acquiring nutrients present in consumed food. Liver scarring may occur as a result of various conditions that damage the liver, including alcoholism, hepatitis B and C, cystic fibrosis and bile duct abnormalities. Mild scarring may be repaired by the body, but more severe scarring may eventually prevent the liver from functioning at all.
Cirrhosis does not produce any symptoms until extensive damage has already occurred. Symptoms may include easy bruising and bleeding, fluid retention in the abdominal area, nausea, fatigue, poor appetite, weight loss and leg swelling. Cirrhosis may make affected individuals more prone to infections.
At the end stage of cirrhosis, blood flow through the liver is restricted by excessive scar tissue, increasing portal vein pressure, which in turn causes blood to overflow into smaller veins, which may then burst under pressure; serious internal bleeding is possible in this scenario.
When the liver loses its ability to detoxify the body, the toxins can cause problems with concentration that can lead to severe confusion. Eventually, hepatic encephalopathy (blood toxicity that leads to changed cognitive function) can result in coma.
Cirrhosis may be treated by addressing any underlying conditions, such as alcoholism and hepatitis B and C. Swelling may be treated with diuretics, while portal vein hypertension can be relieved with blood pressure medications. Hepatic encephalopathy may be treated with medications that counteract excessive toxins in the body. When these treatments fail, however, a liver transplant may be the only remaining option.
Cirrhosis does not occur overnight; rather, it takes years of damage to produce harmful scarring, and then many more years of abuse for the liver to stop functioning completely. If underlying conditions are not treated, the condition can be deadly. Cirrhosis cannot be reversed, but treatment can stop or at least slow the progression of the disease. In the final stage of cirrhosis, liver failure is most likely imminent, and a transplant is needed to sustain life.