What is Cirrhosis?
The liver plays an important role in as many as 500 different functions, some of which include the elimination of waste and toxins, the storing of vitamins, and the breaking down of fats and other dietary groups during the digestion process.
When the liver is damaged, some of the functioning cells die and are replaced by scar tissue thus preventing it from working as it should. This condition is known as cirrhosis.
As scar tissue replaces normal tissue, blood circulation through your liver is affected – making it difficult for your liver to carry out essential functions. Soon the liver struggles to perform it detox function of removing chemicals and poisons from the system. Digestion is affected and the body struggles to produce needed nutrients.
While liver damage and scarring from cirrhosis is irreversible, the condition tends to develop slowly over a long period of time and once the underlying cause is discovered treatment can help to prevent further damage and minimize the consequent symptoms.
What are the symptoms of Cirrhosis?
In the early stages of cirrhosis, most people do not have any symptoms. However, as more scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue, your liver starts to struggle with its essential tasks and symptoms soon arise.
As your liver health declines you may experience some of the following symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Exhaustion or fatigue
- Physical weakness
- Abdominal pain
- Spider-like blood vessels (spider-veins or spider naevi) that develop on the skin
- Easy bruising
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Swelling of the legs or ankles (edema)
- Fluid in the abdominal cavity (ascites)
- Impotence and/or loss of libido
- Cognitive symptoms including confusion, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating
- Decreased urine output or dark urine
- Itchy skin, often starting with the hands and feet and progressing to other areas of the body
Other symptoms include bleeding gums, fevers, breast development in men, clubbing of the finger nails (broad, swollen flattened fingertips and nails), pale colored stools and bleeding from inflamed veins in your esophagus or intestines (often experienced as bleeding hemorrhoids or vomiting blood).
What Causes Cirrhosis?
Liver Cirrhosis can be due to any long-term, continuous liver damage. Liver damage is caused by a number of factors and illnesses including alcohol excess, reactions to prescription drugs, prolonged exposure to environmental toxins, Hepatitis B and C, inherited liver disease, autoimmune disease or blocked bile ducks.
Excessive use of alcohol and chronic infection with the Hepatitis C virus are the leading causes of cirrhosis. But other factors — including damaged bile ducts, immune system problems and prolonged exposure to certain environmental toxins — can cause liver scarring too.
As there are seldom symptoms of cirrhosis in the early stages of the condition, it is often only picked up during a routine examination, or once the disease has progressed and symptoms are evident.
Your physician may press on the abdomen and feel that your liver is slightly swollen or hard and order further tests to check for cirrhosis. The following tests may be advised: blood tests, an ultrasound, a computerized tomography (CT) scan and/ or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
A liver biopsy may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis. For this your doctor will use a needle to take a small sample of liver tissue, which is then examined under a microscope for any signs of scarring or disease.
Help for Cirrhosis
The scar tissue and damage of cirrhosis is irreversible and so treatment options aim at preventing further liver damage, reducing symptoms and complications and boosting liver health. The most important aspect of treating cirrhosis is to discover and treat the underlying cause of the condition.
In addition to treating the cause, your physician may prescribe a number of medications to help treat any symptoms and to help avoid cirrhosis complications such as hypertension , autoimmune disease , bleeding blood vessels, edema, itchy skin and liver failure.
Nutrition often plays a fundamental role in treating cirrhosis and your physician may recommend a nutritionist to help you with this aspect of treatment. A high-calorie, low-fat and high-nutrition diet will help liver cells regenerate. The avoidance of alcohol is also usually necessary.
If the cirrhosis has already progressed and your liver is severely damaged, a liver transplant may be necessary.
When the liver becomes compromised by liver disease or cirrhosis, it is important to boost liver health and enhance remaining liver functioning. Nature has a few essential ingredients that have a long history of doing just this by way of natural herbal and homeopathic remedies. Silybum marianus (Milk Thistle) in particular has become widely known for its beneficial properties for improving liver health and treating liver disease.
Milk Thistle works by rebuilding healthy liver cells, stimulating the production of toxin-neutralizing antioxidants while improving bile flow and minimizing liver-related complications. In addition, Dandelion and Verbena officinalis are used to benefit liver and digestive health. Natural remedies make a gentle yet effective alternative to liver health and vitality.
More Information on Cirrhosis
Tips for coping with Cirrhosis
There are a number things you can do to enhance liver health and prevent further damage that only require a few changes in diet and life-style.
- Change your diet so that you increase calorie, nutrient and protein intake, but reduce fats and sodium. Make sure you eat enough fruit, vegetables and whole grains each day. Because the liver plays an important role in the processing of nutrients and vitamins, it may be beneficial to consider a vitamin supplement.
- Avoid alcohol no matter what the underlying cause of cirrhosis is. The body treats alcohol like a poison and the liver and kidneys have to work hard to get rid of these toxins. Alcohol intake will only worsen the condition of the liver.
- Be wary of any medication you may take and discuss any medication with your physician beforehand. Try to avoid over the counter medications especially aspirins and anti-inflammatories (NSAID’s).
- Try to keep your immune system in tip top condition and avoid people who are sick. The liver plays a role in the immune system and so your body cannot fight off infections as easily when the liver is damaged.
- Avoid raw shellfish such as oysters, clams and muscles as some contain a bacterium that can be dangerous to those suffering from cirrhosis.