Most people associate the word ‘cirrhosis’ with excessive alcohol consumption. And seeing as chronic alcoholism is the leading cause of liver cirrhosis in the United States that is not an incorrect association.
However, what people may not realize is that anyone can develop cirrhosis of the liver during the course of their lifetime, even if they consume very little, if any at all, alcohol.
Non-alcoholic cirrhosis can affect people of all ages, ethnicities, and genders. And, if it gets serious enough, someone with cirrhosis may require liver disease treatment in order to restore the liver’s health.
Today we will look at how, despite the fact you may not consume alcohol, you can in fact get cirrhosis. We will discuss what cirrhosis is, including non-alcoholic cirrhosis, and what treatment may look like.
What is Cirrhosis?
According to the American Liver Foundation, cirrhosis of the liver is the replacement of normal liver tissue with non-living scar tissue. This damage to the liver is always related to other liver diseases and can occur for several reasons.
Cirrhosis is a slowly progressing ailment caused by chronic, or long-term, liver disease. The scar tissue that forms due to the cirrhosis blocks the flow of blood through the liver and prevents nutrients, hormones, drugs, and naturally produced toxins from processing correctly.
Cirrhosis also slows the production of essential proteins and other substances produced by the liver that are necessary for a clean bill of health.
As cirrhosis of the liver progresses, the liver suffers more significantly due to the loss of healthy liver tissue. If liver disease treatment is not sought to treat the cirrhosis, eventually the liver will fail to function properly and may even lead to liver failure.
People who are suffering from cirrhosis of the liver often experience the following symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of energy
- Sudden weight loss
- Yellowing of the skin
- Itchy skin
- Fluid retention
- Bloody stool
- Orange tinted urine
Unfortunately, chronic alcoholism is the leading cause of cirrhosis in the United States. Drinking too much alcohol can cause your liver to swell, which over time can lead to what is defined as alcoholic cirrhosis. And while the amount of alcohol consumed to cause cirrhosis differs for everyone, there is an inherent danger with any type of alcohol consumption when it comes to the health of your liver.
But What about Non-Alcoholic Cirrhosis?
Though alcoholic cirrhosis is a serious ailment affecting many Americans, it is important to understand the severity of non-alcoholic cirrhosis as well. Since many people only associate cirrhosis with alcohol consumption, symptoms related to non-alcoholic cirrhosis may go overlooked and untreated.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common liver diseases that can cause cirrhosis.
Chronic Viral Hepatitis
While alcoholic cirrhosis is the leading cause of cirrhosis in the United States, the second leading cause of cirrhosis of the liver is chronic hepatitis C which is unrelated to alcohol abuse. Much like alcoholic cirrhosis, hepatitis C causes the liver to swell and become damaged. With that damage comes scar tissue which eventually can be diagnosed as cirrhosis of the liver.
Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)
Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH) is the result of fat buildup on the liver. It is the more serious of the fatty liver diseases, which is generally referred to as Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
This disease is not related to alcohol consumption, though it also causes the liver to swell which leads to scar tissue formation. People with NASH typically have other serious health issues such as diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, and poor eating habits.
Bile Duct Disease
Bile duct disease limits or stops the bile required for proper digestion from flowing in to the small intestine for the further breakdown of food that is consumed. The bile then backs up into the liver causing it to swell and scar. The two bile duct diseases that commonly cause non-alcoholic cirrhosis are primary sclerosing cholangitis and primary biliary cirrhosis.
Some genetic disease can lead to cirrhosis and may require liver disease treatment to help facilitate the restoration of a healthy liver.
- Wilson’s disease. With Wilson’s disease, too much copper accumulates in the liver, brain, and other vital organs. Though copper is essential for the development of healthy nerves, bones, collagen, melanin, too much of it can cause a life-threatening situation. As the copper builds up in the liver, damage begins to occur. If enough copper builds up in the liver, liver failure can occur.
- Hemochromatosis. Not unlike Wilson’s disease, hemochromatosis is an inherited disease that can affect the liver in a deadly way. However, rather than accumulating too much copper, this disease loads too much iron in the body. If left untreated, hemochromatosis can cause cirrhosis of the liver, among many other conditions.
- Cystic Fibrosis. Often seen in infants and young children, cystic fibrosis has the potential to affect the liver, though sometimes not until later in life. Starting in the bile ducts, cystic fibrosis blocks the normal flow of bile through the digestive system and instead backs the bile into the liver causing it to swell, become hard, and scar.
Treating Non-Alcoholic Cirrhosis
If you are suffering from non-alcoholic cirrhosis it is important you make an appointment to see a liver specialist to discuss your treatment options.
If the cirrhosis is due to an inherited disease, chances are treatment of the underlying cause is already taking place.
If you have advanced bile duct disease, especially if it has turned cancerous, removal of the diseased tissue and relief of biliary blockages due to tumor formations is necessary.
Unfortunately, if your cirrhosis is due to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, there are currently no medical treatments available.
It is often recommended that eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can help prevent further liver damage from occurring. In fact, it has even been known to reverse cirrhosis when in its early stages.
Here are some other things Baltimore’s best liver specialist would suggest to someone suffering from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease that has progressed into cirrhosis:
- Lose weight, especially if you are obese.
- Lower your triglycerides and cholesterol.
- Control your diabetes.
- Avoid alcohol (though not the cause, alcohol consumption can worsen symptoms).
- Only take medication that is prescribed and follow all dosing instructions.
Cirrhosis of the liver is a serious ailment. Understanding that it can affect anyone at any time is important to maintaining optimal liver health.
If you are in the Baltimore area and think you may be suffering from non-alcoholic cirrhosis it is imperative you see a specialist to prevent further damage from occurring.
Dr. Fraiman at the The Liver and Pancreas Center team is available to address your individual needs when it comes to your liver health. Practicing for over 20 years, Dr. Fraiman has been recognized for his expertise in treating liver conditions and is one of the few doctors in Baltimore than can perform liver surgery should that been your only path to a healthy life. Call today and see what Dr. Fraiman and his team of specialists can do to help you live a healthier life.