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What is Liver Cirrhosis?
Liver cirrhosis means scarring of the liver in layman terms. When the liver is repeatedly injured by agents such as hepatitis B or alcohol, the liver tries to repair itself by growing new liver cells. In the process, scar tissue forms. As the damage progresses, more and more scar tissue forms, making it difficult for the liver to function properly.
Many types of liver diseases and conditions can damage healthy liver cells causing cell death and inflammation. In Singapore, the most common cause of liver cirrhosis is Chronic Hepatitis B.
Risks of Liver Cirrhosis
While not every Hepatitis B carrier will become cirrhotic, approximately 20-40% may end up with cirrhosis if their condition is not monitored. Other causes include alcohol, Hepatitis C, fatty liver or Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, autoimmune liver disease and many other less common causes.
You are more likely to get cirrhosis of the liver if you
- Abuse alcohol for many years
- If you have chronic viral hepatitis
- Have a history of liver disease
- Inject drugs using shared needles
- Have diabetes or if you are obese
Symptoms of liver cirrhosis
In early or compensated cirrhosis, patients may not have any symptoms. They may not even know that they have liver cirrhosis. This is because the liver has enough reserve capacity to cater to the needs of the body even if scarred.
Progression of Cirrhosis
However when scarring progresses, the patient is prone to develop
- Fluid retention
- Delayed clotting and increased risk of internal bleeding
- Increase risks of infection
- Increased risks of mental confusion
- Increased risk of cancer
Symptoms of advanced cirrhosis
As a result, advanced cirrhotic patients may have symptoms like
- Tiredness , lethargy
- Jaundice which is the yellow discolouration of eye and skin
- Loss of appetite, loss of weight and nausea
- Fluid filled distended abdomen
- Swelling of legs
- Lethargy, confusion, personality change
- Sleep disturbance
- Easy bruising and bleeding
- Possibly even bleeding from the stomach and intestines.
Can cirrhosis be cured?
Unfortunately, cirrhosis cannot be cured. The damage done to your liver is permanent.
However, depending on the underlying cause of your cirrhosis, there may be actions you can take to prevent it from worsening.
- Stop drinking alcohol
- Follow up with your doctor for chronic viral hepatitis to keep it in check
- Avoiding medications that stress the liver
- Eat a healthy, well balanced low fat diet.
Once the cause is treated or controlled, further damage to the liver can be prevented. Then the liver will have a chance to repair itself.
For end stage liver cirrhosis, liver transplantation provides a cure for cirrhosis patients. So the key is in early identification and early treatment - so please see your doctor early if you experience any of the symptoms of liver cirrhosis.
By : Dr Chen Yiming
Family Physician, MBBS (Singapore), GDFM (NUS), GDFP Dermatology (NUS)