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Cirrhosis – A Summary

Although cirrhosis is normally associated with alcohol abuse, the term cirrhosis refers to the replacement of liver cells by non-functioning, fibrous tissues and shrinking of the liver, all of which occur when liver cells cease functioning.

Cirrhosis occurs most frequently among middle-aged women; in 1989, chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis, was the ninth most common cause of death in the U.S.

Cirrhosis is most commonly linked with alcohol abuse and hepatitis, though malnutrition, prolonged obstruction of the flow of bile, congestive heart failure and syphilis may also lead to cirrhosis. Since the exact cause of cirrhosis remains unknown, there is no guaranteed means of prevention.

In practical terms, however, one can minimize the chances of cirrhosis by limiting alcoholic intake and avoiding the common causes of hepatitis. Hepatitis A or infectious hepatitis is normally contracted either through eating improperly cooked or uncooked shellfish or through the use of food or eating utensils contaminated by a carrier. Consequently, proper food preparation (e.g., steaming shellfish for four to six minutes or frying them; boiling suspicious drinking water) and good hygiene reduce the opportunities for acquiring Hepatitis A. Hepatitis B, or serum hepatitis, is a more serious illness.

Persons who must be around carriers or potential carriers of this disease (for example, health care workers) should receive the vaccination against it, which is safe and effective. If cirrhosis is caught in time and the other complicating factors are not present, cirrhosis can be halted (though not reversed) through treatment and then through diet; persons with advanced cirrhosis may be considered for liver transplantation.

Current Research

The exact cause of cirrhosis is the liver is unknown, despite its frequent links with alcohol abuse and hepatitis. Aside from the prevention methods described above for these two most common links, research is also proceeding on various other ways of preventing cirrhosis, although the research to date remains purely experimental. For example, researchers at the Fukushima Medical College in Japan report evidence the malitolate prevents liver cell damage and cirrhosis, both induced by CCl4 in rats (Suzuki, 1992).

Researchers at the Center for Biomedical Research at the Hospital of St. Joan in Reus, Spain, also report experimental results in rats indicating that zinc supplementationlessens the effect of fibrogenesis in cirrhotic rat livers (Camps and others, 1992). Finally, researchers at the Shanxi Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Taiyuan Mainland, China, report research indicating that certain Chinese herbs slowed the progress of chronic liver disease into cirrhosis (Wang, 1992).

Again, it must be emphasized that all of these findings are still very experimental. With regard to the treatment of cirrhosis, ursodeoxycholic acid has brought signficant improvements in patients with primary biliary cirrhosis (Jorgensen and others, 1995). When cirrhosis is complicated by hepatocellular carcinoma, liver transplantation can yield very good results (Schwartz and others, 1995), though effective non-surgical treatment has also made significant strides in recent years (review: Ohto and others, 1995).

Bodily Effects

The liver is one of the body’s most complex organs. Through processes that are still unknown, the liver can continue to operate even when parts of it are removed, and can even re-grow the portions that are removed. Excessive consumption of alcohol and/or hepatitis or other disease can destroy liver cells, robbing them of their ability to regenerate and of their ability to perform the large number of vital liver functions. If caught in time,the damage done can be stopped, though it cannot be reversed.

Source: Wellness Web