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Cirrhosis is a chronic disease of the liver in which liver tissue is replaced by connective tissue, resulting in the loss of liver function. Cirrhosis is caused by damage from toxins (including alcohol), metabolic problems, chronic viral hepatitis or other causes. Cirrhosis is sometimes referred to by its obsolete eponym Laennec's cirrhosis after René Laënnec. Cirrhosis is irreversible but treatment of the causative disease will slow or even halt the damage. more...
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Cirrhosis may refer to chronic interstitial inflammation of any tissue, but is rarely used for other diseases than cirrhosis of the liver.
Early symptoms include red palms, spider angioma (red spots on the upper body), hypertrophy of the parotid glands, and fibrosis of tendons in the hands. Clubbing may develop.
Many people with cirrhosis have no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. However, as scar tissue replaces healthy cells, liver function starts to fail and a person may experience the following symptoms:
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- abdominal pain
As the disease progresses, complications may develop. In some people, these may be the first signs of the disease.
- Bruising and bleeding due to decreased production of coagulation factors.
- Jaundice due to decreased processing of bilirubin.
- Itching due to bile products deposited in the skin.
- Hepatic encephalopathy - the liver does not clear ammonia and related nitrogenous substances from the blood, which affect cerebral functioning: neglect of personal appearance, unresponsiveness, forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, or changes in sleep habits.
- Sensitivity to medication due to decreased metabolism of the active compounds.
- Hepatocellular carcinoma is primary liver cancer, commonly caused by cirrhosis. It has a high mortality rate.
- Portal hypertension - blood normally carried from the intestines and spleen through the portal vein flows more slowly and the pressure increases; this leads to the following complications:
- Ascites - fluid leaks through the vasculature into the abdominal cavity.
- Esophageal varices - collateral portal blood flow through vessels in the stomach and esophagus. These blood vessels may become enlarged and are more likely to burst.
- Problems in other organs. Cirrhosis can cause immune system dysfunction, leading to infection. Fluid in the abdomen (ascites) may become infected with bacteria normally present in the intestines (spontaneous bacterial peritonitis). Cirrhosis can also lead to impotence, kidney dysfunction and renal failure (hepatorenal syndrome) and osteoporosis.
Cirrhosis has many possible causes; sometimes more than one cause are present in the same patient. In the Western World, chronic alcoholism and hepatitis C are the most common causes.
- Alcoholic liver disease (ALD). Alcoholic cirrhosis develops after more than a decade of heavy drinking in 15% of all alcoholics. There is great variability in the amount of alcohol needed to cause cirrhosis (3-4 drinks a day in some men and 2-3 in some women). Alcohol seems to injure the liver by blocking the normal metabolism of protein, fats, and carbohydrates.
- Chronic hepatitis B (with or without D agent). The hepatitis B virus is probably the most common cause of cirrhosis worldwide, especially South-East Asia, but it is less common in the United States and the Western world. Hepatitis B causes liver inflammation and injury that over several decades can lead to cirrhosis. Hepatitis D is dependant on the presence of hepatitis B, but accelerates cirrhosis in co-infection.
- Chronic hepatitis C. The hepatitis C virus ranks with alcohol as a major cause of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. Infection with this virus causes inflammation of and low grade damage to the liver that over several decades can lead to cirrhosis.
- Autoimmune hepatitis. This disease is caused by the immune system attacking the liver and causing inflammation, damage, and eventually scarring and cirrhosis.
- Inherited diseases. These interfere with the way the liver produces, processes, and stores enzymes, proteins, metals, and other substances the body needs to function properly.
- Alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency
- Hemochromatosis (iron accumulation)
- Wilson's disease (copper accumulation)
- Glycogen storage diseases
- Cystic fibrosis
- Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). In NASH, fat builds up in the liver and eventually causes scar tissue. This type of hepatitis appears to be associated with diabetes, protein malnutrition, obesity, coronary artery disease, and treatment with corticosteroid medications.
- Diseases that lead to chronic obstruction of the bile ducts. Accumulated bile damages liver tissue:
- In babies, blocked bile ducts are most commonly caused by biliary atresia, a disease in which the bile ducts are absent or injured.
- In adults, the most common cause is primary biliary cirrhosis, a disease in which the ducts become inflamed, blocked, and scarred.
- Secondary biliary cirrhosis can happen after gallbladder surgery if the ducts are inadvertently tied off or injured.
- Drugs or toxins, including chronic use of acetaminophen.
- Repeated bouts of heart failure with liver congestion.
- Certain parasitic infections (like schistosomiasis).
- "Cardiac cirrosis" (ICD-10 K76.1) is not a true cirrosis. It is more accurately referenced as "congestive hepatopathy", but the old name is still commonly used.
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