The liver is a large organ that sits in the right upper abdomen, just under the right lung. It is one of the body's most "intelligent" organs in that it performs so many different functions at the same time. The liver makes proteins, eliminates waste material from the body, produces cholesterol, stores and releases glucose energy and metabolizes many drugs used in medicine. It also produces bile that flows through bile ducts into the intestine where it helps to digest food. This remarkable organ also has the ability to regenerate itself if it is injured or partially removed. The liver receives blood from two different sources – the heart and the intestine. All of this blood flows through the liver and returns to the heart. It is no wonder why the ancient Chinese viewed the liver, not the heart, as the center of the body.
What is Cirrhosis?
Many types of chronic injury to the liver can result in scar tissue. This scarring distorts the normal structure and regrowth of liver cells. The flow of blood through the liver from the intestine is blocked and the work is done by the liver, such as processing drugs or producing proteins, is hindered.
What Causes Cirrhosis?
Cirrhosis can be caused by many things, some known and others unknown:
What are the Signs and Symptoms?
Cirrhosis takes years to develop. During this time, there are usually no symptoms, although fatigue, weakness and decreased appetite may occur and worsen with time. When cirrhosis is fully developed, a number of signs may be present:
Diagnosis and Liver Biopsy
The physician can always suspect cirrhosis from the patient's medical history and physical examination. In addition, certain blood tests can scans or ultrasound (sonography) can provide helpful information. To make a definite diagnosis, however, a liver biopsy (tissue sample) is required. This is performed by anesthetisizing the skin of the right-lower chest and inserting a thin, needle into the liver. A core or specimen of tissue is removed and examined under a microscope.
What is the Course of Cirrhosis?
When cirrhosis is diagnosed, the patient and physician begin a plan of action designed to preserve the remaining liver cells and correct the complications mentioned above. By following this plan, most patients can lead long, productive lives.
Perhaps 90 percent of cirrhosis is caused by excessive alcohol consumption or hepatitis viruses. Of course, alcohol can be avoided. Alcohol consumption should always be limited to no more than 1 or 2 drinks per day. And type B hepatitis now has an effective vaccine against it. Vaccination against B hepatitis virus is safe and inexpensive. It should be taken especially by certain high-risk groups: all health care professionals, persons traveling to third world countries, homosexuals, intravenous drug users, and prostitutes.
Often, the only required treatment for cirrhosis is removing the offending cause:
- The alcoholic patient must permanently stop consuming alcohol
- When iron is being retained in the body, chronic removal of blob by vein eliminates large amounts of iron.
- Cortisone medicine helps treat autoimmune hepatitis and cirrhosis
- Restricting salt and using fluid pills (diuretics) reduce edema and abdominal swelling.
- Toxins and injurious drugs must be avoided.
- Decreasing dietary proteins and using certain laxatives generally can prevent changes in mental functions.
- Bleeding veins in the esophagus can be injected with sclerosing (clotting) agents or closed with small rubber bands. Occasionally, surgery is necessary to prevent recurrent massive bleeding.
- Ursodiiol (Actigall) and other drugs have been helpful in treating primary biliary cirrhosis and primary sclerosing chloangitis.