Health Tips & Articles

Cirrhosis of the Liver

by Steven M. Samuels, MD

Cirrhosis of the liver is a common condition.  It is caused by severe scarring of the liver.  Scar tissue forms in the liver as a result of any chronic inflammation or attack by a toxic substance.  If there is enough build-up of scar tissue, then the liver shrivels and becomes irregular.  Such a liver is called a cirrhotic liver. 

When the liver becomes distorted by scar tissue, blood flow through the liver is partially blocked.  Blood then backs up into the blood vessels feeding the liver, much as water backs up in a clogged garden hose.  This back-up of blood can lead to life-threatening complications, such as to internal bleeding and to accumulation of fluid in the belly.  These complications may lead to the need for liver transplantation. It is important to note that cirrhosis is often without symptoms until severe complications arise.

Though certainly alcohol (more than an average of two shots of hard liquor, two glasses of wine or two cans of beer daily) often leads to cirrhosis, there are many other common causes.  These include chronic hepatitis C, chronic hepatitis B, and fatty liver associated with obesity and diabetes. Certain genetic disorders (hemochromatosis, for example) may also cause cirrhosis. Taking certain over-the-counter herbal remedies has recently been implicated in cirrhosis and liver failure.

There is no satisfactory drug treatment for cirrhosis.  The best measures are preventative: drink alcohol in moderation, avoid sharing needles (hepatitis B and C), avoid obesity and carefully treat diabetes (fatty liver disease). 


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