Cirrhosis is characterised by scarring and wasting of the liver, which destroys the normal liver tissue and replaces it with connective tissue. Cirrhosis is primarily caused by long-term consumption of alcohol or chronic liver diseases such as hepatitis. The earlier that the underlying disease (hepatitis, alcohol abuse) is detected and treated, the easier it is to prevent cirrhosis or stop the progression of existing liver damage.
Cirrhosis usually occurs over a long period, during which the liver changes as a result of chronic damage due to alcohol or infection. The normal lymph tissue with liver cells is increasingly replaced by scar tissue and connective tissue. Thus, cirrhosis is actually always the consequence and the final stage of chronic liver disease.
Early stage cirrhosis can cause various symptoms, such as fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea or weight loss. The advanced stage of cirrhosis may also include jaundice, itching and water retention in the legs or abdomen. Cirrhosis impairs the circulation in the liver, which causes the blood to search for other paths. Sometimes this results in cramps in the oesophagus. This feared complication can cause severe bleeding with haematemesis, which is always an emergency and should be immediately checked by a doctor.
Various examinations are used to diagnose cirrhosis. They include blood tests, ultrasound examinations and a liver biopsy to confirm the changes in the liver.
The treatment focuses on preventing cirrhosis from occurring or on stopping the disease from progressing. The treatment is based on the underlying disease. Depending on the cause, different types of treatment options are used. Antiviral medication is used in the case of viral liver inflammation. If alcohol consumption is revealed to be the cause of the cirrhosis, the treatment focuses on abstaining from alcohol. Oesophageal varices are treated surgically to prevent haemorrhaging. However, established cirrhosis can no longer be reversed with these treatment options. A liver transplant is currently the only treatment available which offers those affected a chance to recover from cirrhosis.