Cirrhosis is a slowly progressing disease in which healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue, eventually preventing the liver from functioning properly. The scar tissue blocks the flow of blood through the liver and slows the processing of nutrients, hormones, drugs, and naturally produced toxins. It also slows the production of proteins and other substances made by the liver. According to the National Institutes of Health, cirrhosis is the twelfth leading cause of death by disease.
The symptoms of cirrhosis of the liver vary with the stage of the illness. In the beginning stages, there may not be any symptoms. As the disease worsens, symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of energy (fatigue), which may be debilitating
- Weight loss or sudden weight gain
- Yellowing of skin or the whites of eyes (jaundice)
- Itchy skin
- Fluid retention (edema) and swelling in the ankles, legs, and abdomen (often an early sign)
- A brownish or orange tint to the urine
- Light colored stools
- Confusion, disorientation, personality changes
- Blood in the stool
Cirrhosis of the liver can be diagnosed through a physical exam, blood tests, biopsy and surgery. During a physical exam, your doctor can observe changes in how your liver feels or how large it is (a cirrhotic liver is bumpy and irregular instead of smooth). If your doctor suspects cirrhosis, you will be given blood tests to find out if liver disease is present. In some cases, cirrhosis is diagnosed during surgery when the doctor is able to see the entire liver. The liver also can be inspected through a laparoscope, a viewing device that is inserted through a tiny incision in the abdomen.
Although there is no cure for cirrhosis of the liver, there are treatments available that can stop or delay its progress, minimize the damage to liver cells, and reduce complications. For cirrhosis caused by alcohol abuse, the person must stop drinking alcohol to halt the progression of cirrhosis. Medications may be given to control the symptoms of cirrhosis. Liver transplantation may be needed for some people with severe cirrhosis.
If you are experiencing any symptoms of liver cirrhosis schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately. The Department of Gastroenterology at Jamaica Hospital specializes in the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders. To schedule an appointment, please call 718-206-7001.