When my father started having health issues it took us some time to understand that he has liver cirrhosis and needs a liver specialist i.e. hepatologist. Here is a quick guide to understand what’s cirrhosis, early signs/symptoms to pay attention as well as thé late stage signs when you need to consider for liver transplant.
Liver what it does in simple terms:
- Keeps your blood clean. Note: All the blood leaving your stomach and intestine passes through the liver.
- It helps in digestion by producing bile which is an important digestive liquid.
- It also acts as your energy reservoir as it stores glucose and releases into your blood stream when your glucose level drops.
Overall, it’s a very vital organ of the body that plays a big role in our immune system, making many important proteins needed for proper immune function.
Liver Cirrhosis in simple terms:
- Each time your liver is injured – whether by disease, excessive alcohol consumption or another cause like obese – it tries to repair itself.
- In the process to recover itself scar tissues forms and as more and more scar tissues form it becomes difficult for the liver to function.
- Fibrosis is the term for this scarring of the liver and when this scarring becomes prominent where it starts to affect the ability of the liver to function properly it’s called Cirrhosis.
The most common factor for Liver Cirrhossis is 1)- Long term hepatitis C viral infection and 2)- Long term heavy alcohol consumption.
“According to the NIH, cirrhosis can develop in women who drink more than two alcoholic drinks per day (including beer and wine) for many years. For men, drinking more than three drinks a day for years can put them at risk for cirrhosis.“
Other causes include: 1)- Hepatitis B and D, 2)- Autoimmune hepatitis, 3)- Damage to bile ducts, 4)- Fatty Liver, 5)- Obese, 6)- Medications side-effect etc.
Stages of Liver Cirrhosis:
- Stage 1: Inflammation stage, this is the early stage where the liver is enlarged or inflamed.
- Stage 2: Fibrosis stage, the scar tissue begins to replace the healthy tissue in inflamed liver.
- Stage 3: Cirrhosis stage, Severe scarring process starts making it difficult for liver to function properly
- Stage 4: End-Stage liver disease ( ELSD), is life threatening and liver transplant is the only way forward.
Early Symptoms of liver disease
Given the ability of the liver to function and regenerate during the early Inflammation/Fibrosis stage you might not have any symptoms, hence a regular yearly check-up is always recommended. Catching any kind of liver issues/disease early makes it much easier to treat and manage.
The symptoms during early Cirrhosis stage might include:
- Loss of appetite or hunger
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Discomfort on the upper right side of your abdomen (where liver is located)
- Fever and Jaundice – Yellow discoloration in the skin and eyes
During the later stage 3 of Cirrhosis also called “decompensated cirrhosis” when you are almost nearing stage 4 ELSD, an early decision for liver transplant can help with the success of the surgery and post surgery recovery of the patient.
The typical symptoms during this “decompensated cirrhosis” are:
- Bloated abdomen due to fluid accumulation (ascites)
- Swollen legs
- Confusion, slurred speech, or drowsiness (hepatic encephalopathy)
- spider veins
When above symptoms occurs, one need to seriously plan for liver transplant to save the patient in consultation with the doctors.