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Cirrhosis of the Liver

Cirrhosis of the Liver

Cirrhosis is an irreversible form of liver disease that occurs in 15 to 30% of heavy drinkers.

This condition can occur due to a variety of causes, including obesity, fatty liver disease, and hepatitis. However, alcohol is the most common cause of chronic liver disease (including cirrhosis) in the UK.

What is Cirrhosis? | Causes | FAQs | Treatment

Cirrhosis can be difficult to detect, as many people don’t show symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Often, someone won’t know they have cirrhosis until the condition has become quite serious.

While scarring from cirrhosis is permanent, for many people, it’s still possible to live a long life with this condition. Depending on what caused the onset of liver disease, it’s possible to slow or stop your cirrhosis from becoming worse because many of the causes are treatable or manageable.

If cirrhosis has been caused by excessive alcohol use, the person must first stop drinking in order to treat the disease. And if problem drinking has progressed to this point, it’s very likely that they’ll need professional treatment for alcohol addiction.

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What is Liver Cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis is a form of chronic, late-stage liver disease caused by extensive tissue scarring to the liver over a long period of time. It occurs progressively, as continuous damage is inflicted to the liver over years or even decades. Over time, this extensive damage can eventually stop liver function altogether.

When healthy liver tissue is damaged, the liver repairs itself and creates scar tissue as part of the healing process.

The more damage your liver sustains over time, the more scar tissue builds up.

This is when cirrhosis occurs and your condition may become serious, as the scar tissue can begin blocking blood flow through the liver and keep the organ from functioning properly.

It should be noted that liver cirrhosis is not the same as liver cancer, though most people who have liver cancer also have cirrhosis. And if you have cirrhosis, you’re at an increased risk for developing liver cancer.

Sometimes, cirrhosis is referred to as ‘end-stage liver disease’ because it occurs after prolonged stages of liver damage from a variety of conditions that affect this organ. What makes cirrhosis so dangerous is that many people don’t know they have it because symptoms often don’t appear.

You may not realize you have it unless your healthcare provider notices signs of liver damage via blood tests during a routine check-up. Late-stage cirrhosis is life-threatening, making it important to get medical treatment as soon as possible.

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Signs and Symptoms 

Cirrhosis can be difficult to detect and diagnose because for many people, symptoms don’t appear until liver damage is extensive. If you’re concerned that you may have alcoholic cirrhosis, look out for the following symptoms:

  • Unexpected weight loss or Fatigue
  • Itchy skin /Feeling weak
  • Nausea and Fever, Lack of appetite
  • Visible blood capillaries on the abdomen

As cirrhosis develops and becomes more serious, you may experience:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
  • Swelling in the legs, feet, or ankles
  • Ascites (fluid build-up in your stomach)
  • Skin bruising or bleeding more easily
  • Light-coloured or black, tar-like stool
  • Darker tone to urine, most often brownish or orange
  • Confusion or difficult thinking
  • Personality changes/Loss of sex drive
  • Shrunken testicles in men/Premature menopause in women

Another reason it’s difficult to know if you have cirrhosis is that many of the symptoms are general and may point to a variety of other diagnoses. In order to determine if you have cirrhosis, blood tests and imaging scans can help reveal the health of your liver and whether or not you’ve entered late-stage liver disease.

Typically, heavy drinking needs to be sustained for at least 10 years for alcoholic cirrhosis to develop.

However, extensive liver damage can be sustained far earlier than that, making it vital to quit drinking if you think you may be at risk of developing this condition.

What Causes Alcoholic Cirrhosis?

Anything that causes damage to your liver can eventually lead to cirrhosis. Alcoholic cirrhosis is caused by drinking heavily over an extended period.

Your liver is a large and important organ, responsible for breaking down nutrients for your body and detoxifying your blood. Every time your liver is injured by alcohol use, it repairs itself and creates scar tissue where healthy tissue used to be. As more and more scar tissue form, your liver ceases to be able to work efficiently, and eventually can’t work properly at all.

Cirrhosis is the most advanced form of liver disease caused by drinking alcohol and is usually part of a progression of liver damage. Often, it begins with fatty liver disease, when fat builds up in the liver as a result of the organ continuously breaking down large amounts of alcohol.

This condition progresses to alcoholic hepatitis, an infection in the liver caused by the excess of fat present. It’s possible to develop cirrhosis from alcohol without experiencing hepatitis first. However, most often if someone continues to drink and they have alcoholic fatty liver disease or alcoholic hepatitis, it can then finally progress into chronic and potentially life-threatening cirrhosis.

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Treatment

While cirrhosis typically can’t be reversed, medical professionals can provide treatments that might help to slow the disease’s progress, ease your symptoms, and prevent future complications. Treatment depends on what’s causing the disease and how extensive damage to the liver is.

If the liver begins to fail, often the only form of treatment is to receive a liver transplant.

For those with alcoholic liver cirrhosis, the first and most vital step in treatment is to stop drinking. It can be difficult and potentially dangerous to quit alcohol on your own, because people who have developed cirrhosis from alcohol are usually deeply dependent and addicted to the substance. That’s why it’s strongly recommended to seek professional support in a safe medical setting.

Inpatient Care to Achieve Lasting Abstinence

At Castle Craig, our residential addiction treatment provides you with compassionate support from addiction specialists away from the stresses of everyday life, so you can heal the root causes of your struggle with alcohol. And as you begin the rewarding journey of abstinence, you’ll also help your body to stay as healthy as possible in the face of irreversible liver cirrhosis.

First, your body needs to detox from alcohol. Medically assisted detox allows your body to overcome the discomfort of any withdrawal symptoms you might experience, with the right care and support of psychiatrists, nurses and doctors. As the alcohol leaves your system, your liver receives a reprieve from what’s caused the cirrhosis to develop.

This can help slow the progression of complications from liver disease and keep your liver as healthy as possible.

After detoxing, inpatient treatment at our alcohol rehab can help you to work through the underlying causes of your addiction so you can prevent further liver damage and begin heal physically, mentally and emotionally. Each patient follows a personalised therapy programme designed to create lifelong changes, which may include:

Cirrhosis of the liver is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. If you have alcoholic cirrhosis, the first step after diagnosis is to stop drinking. With the right treatment and support, you can break the cycle of addiction. Contact us today for more information about our available treatment options.

FAQs

Can cirrhosis of the liver be reversed?

Liver cirrhosis can rarely be reversed. This form of late-stage liver disease is usually chronic, and treatment focuses on managing symptoms and preventing further complications.

If you catch cirrhosis early enough, it’s possible to slow or sometimes stop its progression, but as liver damage is considered permanent, there is no cure for the disease.

Is cirrhosis fatal?

Cirrhosis can, in some cases, be fatal. But if you’ve been diagnosed with cirrhosis, how it affects your life going forward depends on how far your condition has progressed. Over time, more scarring develops, and liver function continues to worsen.

Cirrhosis can become life-threatening if your liver begins to fail. At this stage, a doctor will determine whether they’re a candidate for a liver transplant.

How does liver cirrhosis occur?

Cirrhosis occurs when your liver has developed significant scar tissue and ceases to function well. This scar tissue can come from a variety of sources of damage. Alcoholic liver cirrhosis occurs when someone sustains liver damage from excessive drinking over an extended period, but cirrhosis can be caused by other things as well, such as hepatitis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and cystic fibrosis.

How is liver cirrhosis treated?

Liver cirrhosis is treated by managing its symptoms and complications, and by treating problem drinking to avoid further damage. There is no cure for cirrhosis; any damage sustained by the liver is permanent.

Medical professionals might help you manage symptoms with medication, run regular tests to monitor you for cirrhosis-induced complications, or evaluate you as a candidate for a liver transplant.

For people with alcoholic liver cirrhosis, the first step of treatment is to stop alcohol consumption. If you’re concerned about your health but are unable to stop drinking, contact us today to learn more about our comprehensive alcohol addiction treatment programme.

Get in touch today

To find out how we can help you, please telephone Castle Craig on our 24-Hour Helpline: 01721 728118 or click here to arrange a free addiction assessment or here for more information.

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Page last reviewed and clinically fact-checked January 25, 2022