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Gastroenterology Blog

Cirrhosis of the Liver: Signs, Stages, and Treatments

Posted by Gastroenterology Associates on Thu, Aug 20, 2015 @ 3:24 PM

Liver-cirrhosisThe liver is one of the most essential organs of your body, playing a vital role in metabolism and the removal of toxins. Cirrhosis is a hardening and scarring of the liver that occurs as a result of disease and harm to the organ, such as hepatitis infection or alcoholism. Left untreated, cirrhosis will cause the liver to fail, so that it can no longer perform its important functions as it should. Below, we will take a look at some basics about cirrhosis of the liver, including its causes, the symptoms, the stages, and available treatments.

Causes

The causes of cirrhosis include:

  • Chronic alcoholism - The number one cause of cirrhosis in the United States. Excessive alcohol intake causes the liver to swell, which can lead to cirrhosis over years of alcohol abuse. Please discuss alcohol intake with your doctor, especially if you have elevated liver enzymes or fatty liver. Seemingly unrelated or inconsequential factors may surprisingly be enough to cause liver damage.
  • Hepatitis - Chronic viral hepatitis is the second leading cause of cirrhosis in the U.S. Hepatitis C is the most common culprit, but chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis D can also cause the disorder.
  • Steatohepatitis - Steatohepatitis, also known as "fatty liver," is a condition in which fat builds up in the liver, leading to swelling and cirrhosis. Steatohepatitis is usually associated with additional health issues such as obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
  • Bile duct disease - When the bile duct is blocked, bile builds up in the liver, which can lead to cirrhosis. 
  • Genetic disease - A number of genetic diseases can cause cirrhosis. If a family member has liver disease, especially cases of iron overload, you may need to be screened for it. Alcoholic liver disease is not hereditary.

Signs

The symptoms of cirrhosis can vary depending on the case and on how far the disease has progressed. In the early stages, cirrhosis typically causes no noticeable symptoms. Later on, it may cause symptoms such as:

  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Itching
  • Nausea
  • Poor appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Jaundice
  • Gallstones
  • Easy bruising
  • Edema/ swelling of the legs
  • Edema/ swelling of the abdomen (ascites), which can cause severe fluid imbalance in the body
  • Esophageal varices, enlarged blood vessels in the esophagus which have the potential to hemorrhage and result in vomiting of blood, which may be fatal
  • Hepatic encephalopathy, in which toxins build up in the brain, resulting in confusion, forgetfulness or excessive sleepiness

The doctor will diagnose cirrhosis using information such as symptoms, blood tests, and physical examination. Liver biopsy may also be used to diagnose the extent of the disease.

Stages

When cirrhosis is in the early stages, some of the liver cells still function normally, and the patient may have no clear symptoms of the disease. As the amount of scarring and tissue hardening increases, symptoms begin to appear, and the liver's functioning significantly declines. In the later stages of cirrhosis, the liver becomes completely unable to function normally, and severe symptoms such as ascites, esophageal varices, and hepatic encephalopathy. Late cirrhosis can be deadly, especially if not treated.

Treatments

The goal of treatment for cirrhosis is to prevent the liver from being damaged any further, and to reduce the risk of complications. Treatment options depend on the cause of the condition and how damaged the liver is. Medication and lifestyle changes are the most common treatments. In cases of end-stage cirrhosis, the liver can no longer work at all, and the doctor may recommend a transplant.

Treatments for cirrhosis include:

  • Healthy diet and exercise, with minimal salt intake
  • Abstinence from alcohol
  • Drugs to treat hepatitis C
  • Drugs to address the buildup of toxins in the body
  • Screening for complications such as cancer or bleeding veins (varices)
  • Liver transplant

If you or a loved one has symptoms or lifestyle factors that indicate possible cirrhosis, scheduling an appointment with the expert physicians at Gastroenterology Associates can start a course of action that treats some of the problems associated with cirrhosis.  Contact our office today at 225.927.1190 or click through the online appointment button below.

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Disclaimer: All information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and should not replace the consultative advice and experienced feedback from your physician.    Always consult with your physicians on any of your questions and concerns.

Topics: Cirrhosis Baton Rouge, Liver Disease

Overweight? You Need to Know About Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

Posted by Gastroenterology Associates on Tue, Jul 21, 2015 @ 2:36 PM

liver_problems_baton_rougeBeing overweight can have serious effects on several parts of your body, including your liver. Although your liver usually has a small amount of fat in it, too much can result in a condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

While this condition usually doesn’t cause symptoms, it can lead to more serious health problems. If you’re overweight, your risk of having NAFLD is higher. Understanding this disease and learning how to prevent it can help you keep your liver healthy. 

Other causes of fatty liver include alcohol intake, diabetes, having high cholesterol, etc. When fatty liver was noticed in patients who did not have significant alcohol intake, it was named non-alcoholic fatty liver, to differentiate from the alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Causes of NAFLD

Although the underlying cause of NAFLD isn’t known, doctors do know how it occurs. This disease develops when your liver is unable to break fats down effectively, leading to higher amounts of it. NAFLD affects up to 25 percent of people in the US, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD). 

Symptoms of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

In most cases, this disease does not cause any symptoms. If it progresses, it can cause liver inflammation and scarring, known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). In the later stages of NASH, some people experience pain in their upper right abdomen, fatigue, and unexplained weight loss. 

Potential Complications

Having a fatty liver can lead to NASH, which affects up to five percent of people in the US, according to NIDDKD. NASH is typically known as a silent disease, since it does not cause symptoms in the early stages. NASH can result in cirrhosis, or severe scarring of the liver, which prevents this organ from functioning properly. In the most serious cases, cirrhosis can lead to liver failure. 

Risk Factors for NAFLD

Being overweight is one of the most common risk factors of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which typically affects middle-aged people. Having other health conditions that are typically associated with an unhealthy diet, such as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high triglyceride levels, can also raise your risk of developing fatty liver disease. Other risk factors include: 

  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Sleep apnea
  • Underactive thyroid or pituitary gland

Diagnosis of NAFLD

Since NAFLD does not normally cause symptoms, how will you know if you have it? Your doctor might conduct blood tests, imaging procedures, or liver tissue testing if you have abnormal results on a routine physical. These tests check your liver function and the size and physical condition of your liver. 

Most of the patients with NAFLD or NASH are asymptomatic and their liver enzymes may be entirely normal, even when they develop cirrhosis. Hence, a basic laboratory panel does not give any clues to the presence or absence of NAFLD. If you are diagnosed with NAFLD, your doctor will discuss treatment options with you.

Treatment of NAFLD

NAFLD is not treated with medication or any other type of medical treatment. Instead, treatment focuses on making healthy lifestyle changes to help reduce the amount of fat in the liver- this would be achieved by controlling the risk factors that caused NAFLD - such as diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity. Some of the changes your doctor might suggest include:

  • older_black_couple_on_bikes-_smallerEating healthy by including more fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet and reducing the amount of calories you eat
  • Exercising for at least 30 minutes per day
  • Managing diabetes
  • Bringing high cholesterol and triglyceride levels down through healthy eating and medication, if necessary
  • Avoiding alcohol 
  • Being careful about taking over-the-counter pain relievers and other medications that can affect your liver
  • Seeing a healthcare provider who specializes in liver disease

 Prevention

If you haven’t been diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, you can lower your risk of developing it by losing excess weight. Continuing to maintain a healthy body weight through diet and exercise can help protect your liver from high amounts of fat. 

 If you have liver problems, the skilled specialists at Gastroenterology Associates, housed in the Digestive Health Center of Louisiana at 9103 Jefferson Hwy in Baton Rouge, La, are here to help. Contact us to make an appointment with one of our gastroenterologists.

 Why should I visit a gastroenterologist

Disclaimer: All information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and should not replace the consultative advice and experienced feedback from your physician.    Always consult with your physicians on any of your questions and concerns.

Topics: Liver Disease, Weight Management