Cirrhosis of the liver affects more than 633,000 adults and often acts as a silent killer – with 69% of Americans unaware they even have the condition. Being educated is an easy preventive measure. Here are five things you need to know about this deadly, but too often preventable, disease.
Your Liver is Multi-tasking
Your liver is a multi-tasking marvel responsible for detoxifying harmful substances in the body, cleaning the blood and generating vital nutrients. However, in those who suffer from diseases such as hepatitis or chronic alcoholism, the liver experiences an increase in fat, inflammation, and allover scarring as it tries desperately to repair itself. It’s a vicious cycle, and as more scar tissue develops, it becomes exceedingly challenging for the liver to carry out its important duties.
Cirrhosis isn’t just from drinking
Many people associate cirrhosis of the liver with overdrinking or alcoholism, and while this is a common cause, a primary source is viral hepatitis – which may be contracted through the use of contaminated needles or by sexual intercourse. Additionally, the fat build-up that can transpire as a result of excessive drinking may also occur at the hand of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, or obesity; this occurrence is referred to as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or Steatohepatitis.
It progresses in stages
Like many other diseases, Cirrhosis progresses through stages – the first of which (compensated cirrhosis) has no outward symptoms. It may be difficult to diagnose the disease during this time, but signs such as varices (ballooned veins) and an accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity are indicators that certain behaviors should be stopped or attended to. At this point, there’s still time to remedy the liver. During stage two these symptoms will continue to worsen. In stage three, a host of outward symptoms will appear, including yellowish skin, shortness of breath, edema in the feet, ankles and legs, extreme fatigue, and significant weight loss. By stage four, the damage has already been done, and bleeding of the esophagus and stomach lining will make a liver transplant the most probable course of treatment.
Get your bloodwork done
Blood tests are beneficial for many reasons, and this disease is no exception. While your symptoms may not have surfaced yet, a blood sample can reveal the presence of certain enzymes such as an excess of bilirubin – which forms as red blood cells break down in the body. These samples may also diagnose the Hepatitis virus, and determine one’s ability to clot (a difficult task for Cirrhosis sufferers).
Be in tune with your body
In its early stages of cirrhosis, there are many lifestyle modifications you can make to reduce your chances of developing full-blown cirrhosis. If your health issues stem from a dependency on alcohol, seek treatment today. Once the condition has developed, even the smallest amount of alcohol acts as a poison to the liver. If you are experiencing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, your weight may be to blame; diet, exercise, and monitoring one’s blood sugar levels will prove beneficial, but it’s best done with the help of a physician who can ensure you’re getting all of the necessary nutrients. If you are diagnosed with Hepatitis, there are certain medications your doctor may be able to prescribe to prevent future liver damage from occurring.
As with any disease, staying well-informed and getting ahead of it can mean the difference between life and death. Don’t delay treatment for fear of what you may discover. Start by making an appointment with a reputable gastroenterologist who is well-versed in disorders of the GI tract and liver. The physicians at Carlisle Digestive Disease Associates are Board-certified and fellowship-trained and have experience treating patients with everything from fatty liver disease to Autoimmune Hepatitis. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call 717-245-2228.