What is Cirrhosis of the Liver?
Often we fail to view the effects of alcohol and drugs in their proper light, both on an individual and societal level. Cirrhosis is a consequence of chronic liver disease characterized by replacement of liver tissue by fibrosis, scar tissue and regenerative nodules (lumps that occur as a result of a process in which damaged tissue is regenerated) all of which lead to loss of liver function.
Some of the functions normally performed by the liver include:
- Manufacturing blood proteins that aid in clotting, oxygen transport, and immune system function.
- Storing excess nutrients and returning some of the nutrients to the bloodstream.
- Manufacturing bile, a substance needed to help digest food.
- Helping the body store sugar (glucose) in the form of glycogen.
- Ridding the body of harmful substances in the bloodstream, including drugs and alcohol.
- Breaking down saturated fat and producing cholesterol.
Cirrhosis is a slowly progressing disease in which healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue, eventually preventing the liver from functioning properly. The scar tissue blocks the flow of blood through the liver and slows the processing of nutrients, hormones, drugs, and naturally produced toxins. It also slows the production of proteins and other substances made by the liver. Cirrhosis is most commonly caused by alcoholism, hepatitis B and C (which is in turn often caused by addiction), and fatty liver disease, as well as other potential causes. Ascites (bodily fluid retention in the abdominal cavity) is the most common complication of cirrhosis, and is associated with a poor quality of life, increased risk of infection, and a poor long-term outcome. Another potentially life-threatening complication is hepatic encephalopathy (which results in confusion and coma). Cirrhosis is generally irreversible, and / treatment usually focuses on preventing progression and complications. In advanced stages of cirrhosis the only option is a liver transplant.
Treatment for Cirrhosis of the Liver
In the case of alcohol induced cirrhosis the treatment of choice for the alcoholic is cessation of drinking, followed by closely monitored visits with a doctor and/or specialist in gastroenterology. With such an approach the progression of the organ can be monitored and the need for a liver transplant evaluated. Overall the risk for long-term alcoholics to contract the disease is high, and the damaging effects to health and life expectancy can be severe, especially if abstinence from further alcohol consumption is not a goal.
With these sorts of consequences for alcoholic behavior it’s astonishing that so many people continue down paths of unhealthy behavior, letting the days of youthful drinking morph into drunken years and decades. By the time that cirrhosis is contracted the chances of recovery are much diminished, but if the problem can be arrested before the illness sets in then the process of attaining a full life remains in clear view.