The liver is one of the most important organs in the human body. Among its many functions are making proteins needed for the body, waste elimination, producing cholesterol, and the storage and release of glucose energy. The liver also metabolizes many drugs used in medicine. More importantly, the liver produces bile that is useful for digesting food. The liver also has the remarkable ability to regenerate if it is injured or a part of it is removed. There will be times, however, when an injury to the liver can cause complications. In such cases, you will have is called cirrhosis of the liver.
Liver Let Die
Cirrhosis is a chronic (meaning long-term) disease of the liver that causes irreversible scarring of the organ. When the liver is damaged or injured, scar tissue replaces the normal tissue that is lost, during which blood flow through your liver is affected. If the damage is continuous and is not stopped over time, the liver gradually loses its ability to carry out its functions properly. In very advanced stages, the only resort would be to have a liver transplant.
There are a number of conditions that can cause cirrhosis. The primary cause of cirrhosis in many developed and developing countries is rampant alcohol abuse. Excessive alcohol can damage all living cells, especially the liver which filters such substances from your bloodstream and breaks down alcohol into highly toxic chemicals. Some of the chemicals cause inflammation that will eventually destroy the liver cells, leading to scarring. The severity will depend on how long you have been abusing alcohol. Alcohol cirrhosis usually happens after a decade or so of heavy drinking, although how much alcohol is required to injure the liver permanently will vary from person to person.
Some diseases can also be causes of cirrhosis. Chronic Hepatitis B and C are good examples; in fact, C is the second most common cause of cirrhosis, next to alcoholism. Hepatitis causes an inflammation of the liver which damages it over a period of years. Most hepatitis are caused by viruses (viral hepatitis) but your own body can cause it as well, in what is known as autoimmune hepatitis. Aside from this, some inherited diseases are also culprits. These include certain diseases that can cause unusually high concentrations of minerals to accumulate in the liver, such as Wilson’s disease (high production of copper) and hereditary hemochromatosis (high levels of iron).
Watch the Signs
Cirrhosis takes years, even decades, to develop. There is usually no outward or sudden symptoms during this time. However, those suffering from cirrhosis tend to be overly tired or fatigued, suffer from weakness, and have loss of appetite and sex drive. Once complication sets in, more tell-tale signs and symptoms start to appear. Among them:
- Jaundice – The liver normally produces bile that is coursed through the small intestine. With cirrhosis, however, bile can back up into the blood, causing your skin and eyes to turn yellow as well as darken the urine.
- Gallstones – Since cirrhosis causes abnormal metabolism of bile pigment, gallstones tend to develop twice as much as people who don’t have the condition.
- Swelling in the abdomen and legs – One of the chemicals the liver produces is a protein called albumin, which holds fluid in blood vessels. Without albumin (due to liver failure), fluid seeps out to the tissues into the abdomen and legs, causing swelling and edema.
- Sensitivity to medications – The liver is responsible for filtering medications from blood. A breakdown in that function will lead to you being unusually sensitive to medications.
- Encephalopathy – You will also have confusion and delirium or some personality changes due to the buildup of toxins and drugs in your blood, affecting your brain, that are supposed to be filtered by your liver.
Getting Rid of Cirrhosis
Damage to the liver cannot be reversed by any form of treatment or self-help. However, if controlled at an early stage, the liver can heal itself without any complications. If you’re suffering from cirrhosis, here are some things you can do to reduce further damage to your liver.
- Stop alcohol consumption. The single most important step you can take is to stop taking alcohol. In the United States, it is the number one cause of liver failure. Stopping your intake of alcohol will drastically reduce the load on your liver, giving it time to recuperate.
- Limit your medications. One of the primary functions of the liver is to detoxify and eliminate drugs from your blood. Obviously, with your liver not functioning up to par, taking in drugs that may harm it will only exacerbate the situation. Talk to your doctor about what medications to avoid. In general, it is wise to avoid aspirins and NSAIDs. Remember not to combine any analgesic with alcohol, even if you’re taking the proper drug dosage.
- Eat a healthy diet. Cirrhosis can cause nutritional deficiencies leading to weight loss. Therefore, you should have a well-balanced diet; it is especially recommended that you get one that is high in calories and nutrients, especially protein. Include fresh fruits, whole grains, and vegetables. You can also try asking your doctor for any vitamin supplements you can take.
- Restrict your salt intake. Cirrhosis causes fluid retention in your body, leading to swelling and edema. Salt, also, causes your body to retain water, further aggravating the situation. Avoid high-sodium prepared foods such as cold cuts and canned goods, and cut back on condiments. You can instead use lemon juice and herbs as salt substitutes.
- Cook shellfish thoroughly. Raw oysters, clam, and other shellfish contain bacteria that may be hazardous if you have cirrhosis. It’s better to just avoid them altogether but if it’s not possible, then be sure to thoroughly cook them.
Your liver is an indispensable organ, and while you can have it replaced via a liver transplant, good livers are still hard to come by. Take good care of it by having a healthy lifestyle, and you can assured that it will serve you properly until the end of your days.
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