The liver weighs about 3 pounds and is the largest solid organ in the body. It is involved in the processing of nutrients and fats, poisons or toxins, hormones, and medications.
It controls blood clotting and produces proteins and plays an important role in many bodily functions like iron metabolism.
A variety of illnesses can affect the liver. Cirrhosis occurs when normal liver cells are replaced by scar tissue as a result of chronic liver disease. Symptoms of liver diseases include weakness and fatigue, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, and yellow discoloration of the skin (jaundice). The treatment of a particular liver disease depends on its specific cause.
What is Liver Disease?
Liver disease is any disturbance of liver function that causes illness. The liver is responsible for many critical functions within the body and should it become diseased or injured, the loss of those functions can cause significant damage to the body. Liver disease is also referred to as hepatic disease.
What is Cirrhosis?
Cirrhosis is a complication of many liver diseases that is characterized by abnormal structure and function of the liver. The diseases that lead to cirrhosis do so because they injure and kill liver cells; and the inflammation and repair that is associated with the dying liver cells causes scar tissue to form. The liver cells that do not die multiply in an attempt to replace the cells that have died. This results in clusters of newly-formed liver cells (regenerative nodules) within the scar tissue.
Causes of Cirrhosis of the Liver
Hepatitis C, fatty liver, and alcohol abuse are the most common causes of cirrhosis of the liver, but anything that damages the liver can cause cirrhosis, including:
- Fatty liver associated with obesity and diabetes.
- Chronic viral infections of the liver (hepatitis types B, C, and D; Hepatitis D is extremely rare).
- Blockage of the bile duct, which carries bile formed in the liver to the intestines, where it helps in the digestion of fats.
- Repeated bouts of heart failure with fluid backing up into the liver.
- Certain inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis, glycogen storage diseases in which the body is unable to process glycogen, alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency, diseases caused by abnormal liver function.
Symptoms of Cirrhosis
The symptoms of cirrhosis of the liver vary with the stage of the illness. In the beginning stages, there may not be any symptoms. As the disease worsens, symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of energy (fatigue), which may be debilitating
- Weight loss or sudden weight gain
- Yellowing of skin or the whites of eyes (jaundice)
- Itchy skin
- Fluid retention (edema) and swelling in the ankles, legs, and abdomen (often an early sign)
- A brownish or orange tint to the urine
- Light colored stools
- Confusion, disorientation, personality changes
- Blood in the stool
How is Cirrhosis of the Liver Diagnosed?
Cirrhosis of the liver is diagnosed through several methods.
- Physical exam. During a physical exam, your doctor can observe changes in how your liver feels or how large it is (a cirrhotic liver is bumpy and irregular instead of smooth).
- Blood tests. If your doctor suspects cirrhosis, you will be given blood tests to find out if liver disease is present.
- Other tests. In some cases, other tests that take pictures of the liver are performed, such as a computerized tomography (CT scan), ultrasound, or another specialized procedure called a radioisotope liver/spleen scan.
- Biopsy. Your doctor may decide to confirm the diagnosis by taking a sample of tissue (biopsy) from the liver.
- Surgery. In some cases, cirrhosis is diagnosed during surgery when the doctor is able to see the entire liver. The liver also can be inspected through a laparoscope, a viewing device that is inserted through a tiny incision in the abdomen.
Complications Caused by Cirrhosis of the Liver
Without medical treatment, cirrhosis of the liver can lead to a range of potentially life-threatening complications including:
- Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes – a poorly functioning liver stops the body from properly using insulin, the hormone that moves sugar from the blood into the cells.
- Osteoporosis (brittle bones) caused by changes to metabolism of calcium and vitamin D.
- Primary liver cancer – the most common type of cancer caused by cirrhosis is hepatocellular carcinoma.
- Liver failure – scar tissue does not function like liver tissue and in severe cases of cirrhosis, the liver is no longer able to work.
- Bleeding from blood vessels in the esophagus or upper stomach (esophageal varices).
- Increased blood pressure in veins that take blood to the liver (portal hypertension).
- Build-up of fluid within the abdominal cavity (ascites).
- Infection of the fluid found within the abdominal cavity (spontaneous bacterial peritonitis).
- Damage to the brain and nervous system caused by toxins that the liver has failed to remove (hepatic encephalopathy).
Preventing Liver Cirrhosis
There are several ways to reduce your risk of developing cirrhosis of the liver.
- Don’t abuse alcohol. If you do drink alcohol, limit how much you drink and how often. Remember it’s not only the heavy drinker who gets cirrhosis.
- There are ayurvedic herbs namely kaalmegha, bhumiamalaki and bringa raja (eclipta alba) when consumed bring about the toning of the liver making them excellent herbal remedies.
- Avoid high-risk sexual behavior such as unprotected sexual contact with multiple partners.
- Be careful around synthetic chemicals, such as cleaning products and pesticides. If you come into contact with chemicals often, wear protective clothing and a facemask.
- Get vaccinated against hepatitis B.
- Eat a well-balanced, low-fat diet and take vitamins.
- Papaya seeds and lemon juice. Crush a handful of papaya seeds. Press them on a sieve and extract the juice. Take 1 tbsp of this juice. Add 2 tbsp of lemon juice. Mix well. Drink 2 times every day.
- One tsp of Eclipta alba (kayyonni) to be mixed with 1 tsp honey and consumed 3 times a day is very effective.
- Yogurt and cumin powder. Take 2 tbsp of yogurt. Add 2 cups of water. Add 2 tsp of cumin seed powder. Add 1 tsp of salt. Blend them together to make buttermilk. Drink 2 times every day.
- Lemon and salt. Take 1 glass water. Squeeze half a lemon. Add 1 tsp of salt. Mix well. Drink 3 times a day.
- Carrot and spinach juice. Wash and chop a carrot. Wash and chop a few spinach leaves. Crush them to a fine paste. Press this paste on a strainer and remove the juice. Drink this juice to get relief from this condition.
- Lemon juice with a pinch of rock salt.
- 50 grams of radish leaves along with tender stem make juice and consume it on empty stomach.
- Tomato juice with black salt.
- Hot and cold compresses for about 2 to 3 minutes on the liver are also very beneficial in the treatment of cirrhosis of liver.
- Warm water enema is also beneficial and can be used daily to cleanse the bowel.
If cirrhosis is severe and the liver stops working, liver transplantation is the only option. It is often recommended when symptoms become difficult to control by other methods.