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In part I, we examined the role of a healthy liver in blood clotting, processing food, detoxifying our bodies, and processing medications. We learned that all these processes, as well as the healthy action of other bodily systems and organs can be affected when the liver no longer functions as it should as a result of overuse and abuse causing scar tissue to replace healthy liver tissue. This condition is cirrhosis, which is the twelfth leading cause of death (27,000 per year), and affects more men than women.
Causes and Risk Factors for Cirrhosis
Most commonly in North America, heavy consumption of alcohol and chronic hepatitis C are responsible for cirrhosis of the liver. “Cirrhosis is not caused by trauma to the liver or other acute, or short-term, causes of damage. Usually years of chronic injury are required to cause cirrhosis.” (National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse – NDDIC)
The amount of alcohol needed to result in alcohol-related liver disease varies from person to person. “For women, consuming two to three drinks—including beer and wine—per day and for men, three to four drinks per day, can lead to liver damage and cirrhosis. In the past, alcohol-related cirrhosis led to more deaths than cirrhosis due to any other cause.” (NDDIC)
Other causes include:
• Chronic hepatitis B and D
• Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) where fat builds up in the liver; it is normally associated with obesity, diabetes, protein malnutrition, coronary artery disease and corticosteroid medications (NDDIC)
• Autoimmune hepatitis – where the body’s immune system attacks liver tissue; about 70 percent of cases are in females
• Diseases that damage or destroy bile ducts
• Cystic fibrosis, alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, hemochromatosis, Wilson disease, galactosemia and glycogen storage diseases (all are inherited diseases)
• Drug reactions, prolonged exposure to toxic chemicals, parasitic infections and recurrent bouts of heart failure with liver congestion (NDDIC).
Diagnosis of Cirrhosis
Consideration and diagnosis of cirrhosis is based on presenting symptoms and causal factors.