In cirrhosis of the liver, scar tissue replaces normal, healthy tissue, blocking the flow of blood through the organ and preventing it from working as it should. Cirrhosis is the twelfth leading cause of death by disease, killing about 26,000 people each year. Also, the cost of cirrhosis in terms of human suffering, hospital costs, and lost productivity is high.
Cirrhosis is most commonly caused by chronic alcoholism, hepatitis B and C and fatty liver disease but has many other possible causes, including long-standing inflammation, poisons, infections, and heart disease. Alcohol can poison all living cells, causing liver cells to become inflamed and die. The death of liver cells leads your body to form scar tissue around veins of your liver. Healing liver cells form nodules, which also press on the liver veins. This scarring process occurs in 10-20 percent of alcoholics and is the most common form of cirrhosis in the United States.
People with cirrhosis have no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. However, as scar tissue replaces healthy cells, liver function starts to fail and a person may experience exhaustion, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, weakness, abdominal pain, weight loss, and spider-like blood vessels that develop on the skin.
In cirrhosis, a damaged liver cannot remove toxins from the blood, causing them to accumulate in the blood and eventually the brain. There, toxins can dull mental functioning and cause personality changes, coma, and even death. Signs of the buildup of toxins in the brain include neglect of personal appearance, unresponsiveness, forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, or changes in sleep habits.
Usually, liver damage from cirrhosis cannot be reversed, but treatment could stop or delay further progression and reduce complications. A healthy diet is encouraged, as cirrhosis may be an energy-consuming process. Close follow-up is often necessary. Alcoholic cirrhosis caused by alcohol abuse is treated by abstaining from alcohol. Treatment for hepatitis-related cirrhosis involves medications used to treat the different types of hepatitis, such as interferon for viral hepatitis and corticosteroids for autoimmune hepatitis.