Cirrhosis is the result of long-term damage to the liver. Normal liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue, a process which is known as fibrosis. The liver regenerates and forms nodules. Severe fibrosis is known as cirrhosis.
What are the symptoms of cirrhosis?
In the early stages of cirrhosis, there are no symptoms or they are non-specific. They can include tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea and weight loss. In the advanced stages, people can develop itching, yellowing of the eyes (jaundice), swelling of the ankles, dark urine, pale stools, bruising and swelling of the abdomen (ascites).
What causes cirrhosis and who is most at risk?
The commonest causes of cirrhosis are excessive alcohol use, chronic viral infections such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C, and fatty liver disease. Rarer causes include conditions where the person’s own immune system attacks the liver or the bile ducts (autoimmune conditions). Men and women are equally affected and cirrhosis can occur at any age.
How is cirrhosis treated?
If an underlying cause can be found then we can treat potentially treat that. For example, if the cause of cirrhosis is hepatitis C then there are excellent, well tolerated treatments which are likely to result in a cure. If you develop fluid in the abdomen or around the ankle then we can use water tablets (diuretics).
Have there been any recent developments in the treatment of cirrhosis?
There are new treatments becoming available for certain liver diseases. They include new anti-viral agents for hepatitis C and hepatitis B and for certain autoimmune conditions. Liver transplantation is also an option with excellent outcomes.