According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) cirrhosis of the liver is the 12 leading cause of death in the United States. I have to admit when I read that statistic I was surprised that it was so high on the list of causes of death. I thought dedicating today’s blog to cirrhosis would be a good educational topic.
I think that the liver is one of the most fascinating organs in the body. It handles so many functions and is supportive to many of our organ systems. Some primary functions are related to digestion and release of nutrients in the body, storing extra glucose and other nutrients and releasing them into the bloodstream when appropriate, handling of toxins and rendering them harmless to the body, collection and disposal of certain hormones, production and elimination of cholesterol and blood cells just to name a few. The liver has an added ability to regenerate itself when it gets damaged more readily than other organs.
You can see that with so many responsibilities we want to keep the liver healthy. How does something like cirrhosis happen? Cirrhosis of the liver is defined as a slowly progressing disease which scar tissue replaces healthy tissues. As the scar tissue becomes more abundant in the liver it interrupts normal function and the normal blood flow through the liver and the functions of the liver can no longer appropriately take place. There are 3 main causes for cirrhosis alcohol abuse, fatty liver and hepatitis C. Since cirrhosis is a slow progressing disease symptoms may vary in severity depending on how much the liver has been affected. Symptoms may include fatigue sometimes to the point of exhaustion, loss of appetite, yellowing of the skin or the eyeballs, weight loss or weight gain, itchy skin, swelling in the legs or ankles, light colored stool and mental changes or disorientation. Cirrhosis can be diagnosed by physical exam, blood tests or diagnostic imaging like CT scan, ultrasound liver scan. The sooner a problem is diagnosed the sooner treatment can begin. Food always creates the foundation for any good treatment plan.