Cirrhosis of the liver is the leading cause of liver cancer worldwide. The condition generally develops as a result of alcohol abuse or chronic hepatitis. Though cirrhosis may sound like a complicated health problem, it is fundamentally quite simple. Cirrhosis occurs when liver damage occurs repeatedly, often over the course of many years. When the cells of the liver undergo repeated damage, scar tissue develops all over the liver. This scar tissue replaces the normal cells in the liver. These damaged cells can ultimately develop into cancerous tissue, leading to liver cancer.
The damage caused by cirrhosis is often irreversible. Once a large portion of the liver becomes scarred, the condition becomes permanent. The risk of developing liver cancer is 40 to 50 times higher in individuals who have cirrhotic livers versus those with healthy livers. It is estimated that 4 out of 5 cases of liver cancer are a result of cirrhosis. Individuals at risk for cirrhosis should reduce alcohol intake, improve their diet, and medicate any liver conditions as necessary.
Symptoms of Cirrhosis
Most individuals with minor cirrhosis will not have any noticeable symptoms. As the condition progresses, however, the liver may struggle to support the body. Scarring and cell damage reduces the liver’s ability to perform as it should
- Symptoms of moderate to severe cirrhosis of the liver include:
- abdominal pain (on the right side, where the liver is located)
- loss of appetite and weight loss
- mental fogginess/confusion
- tendency to bruise and bleed easily
- fluid pooling in the chest and legs
- and more…
Most cases of cirrhosis can be prevented by living a healthy lifestyle and making safe choices in one’s day-to-day life.
Alcohol-induced cirrhosis is the leading cause of cirrhosis in the United States. If you are an alcoholic, it is highly likely that you will develop cirrhosis unless you cease drinking. Women who regularly drink three glasses of alcohol a day and men who drink four or more are at risk of developing cirrhosis. For drinkers, the best way to lower the odds of developing cirrhosis is simply by reducing one’s alcohol intake.
Chronic hepatitis is another major cause of cirrhosis worldwide. Chronic Hepatitis B and C often lead to cirrhosis of the liver. Individuals should be vaccinated against Hepatitis B to avoid contracting the virus. Though there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C, individuals can protect themselves from this (and other) form of hepatitis by practicing safe sex, avoiding drug use, and eating and drinking properly sanitized foods. Prevention is the best way to avoid hepatitis and its side effects, like cirrhosis.
Individuals who are overweight or obese are at a higher risk of developing liver problems as well. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is often a precursor to liver conditions like cirrhosis. Improved diet and exercise along with reduced alcohol intake can cure individuals of NAFLD and will generally prevent cirrhosis from developing.
Cirrhosis is often irreversible. Individuals should do their best to prevent liver damage to reduce the odds of cirrhosis occurring. Though a liver transplant may be a viable solution for some, transplant waitlists are often long, and many individuals do not have the opportunity to receive a replacement organ.
Reduce your risk of acquiring cirrhosis, and you will likely be able to avoid this health condition altogether. If liver damage has already occurred, change your lifestyle to reduce further scarring of the liver. Living a healthy life is the best way to prevent cirrhosis and liver cancer.