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Cirrhosis of the Liver

Since the liver is so essential for continued health it becomes a particular concern when this organ experiences disease. It is the purpose of the remainder of this paper to explore the disease known as cirrhosis of the liver, its signs and symptoms, its treatment and prevention strategies.

Cirrhosis of the LiverCirrhosis is defined by the liver’s appearance and is associated with characteristic symptoms and physical findings.  Cirrhosis is a disease which involves irreversible scarring of the liver resulting in that organ’s failure to perform its normal function. Pathological features include extensive fibrosis associated with the formation of regenerative nodules.  One sees hepatocyte necrosis, collapse of the supporting reticulin network and subsequent connective tissue deposition. 

The loss of normal liver function in cirrhosis leads to abnormalities in the liver's ability to handle drugs and toxins.  The loss of normal physical structure of the liver interferes with the normal flow of blood through the liver.  Some of the serious results of cirrhosis can include: internal bleeding, kidney failure, mental confusion, coma, body fluid accumulation, and frequent infections. 

The onset of cirrhosis is often "silent" with few specific symptoms to identify what is happening in the liver.  As continued scarring and tissue damage occur, some of the following signs and symptoms may appear:

  1. Abnormally yellow discoloration or the skin and eyes. This is called jaundice which is often the first and sometimes the only obvious sign of liver disease.
  2. Dark Urine.
  3. Gray, yellow, or light-colored stools.
  4. Nausea, vomiting and/or loss of appetite.
  5. Vomiting of blood, bloody or black stools:   

Because blood flows through the liver is slowed in cirrhosis, blood returning from the intestine back to the heart must find alternative channels.  This often leads to the engorgement of varicose‑like veins (varices) in the esophagus and stomach.  These thin‑walled veins can rupture under high pressure and cause internal hemorrhage.  This can result in vomiting of blood, passing of black tarry stools, and even shock.

Abdominal swelling.  Fluid can accumulate in the abdominal cavity (ascites) and legs (edema) as a result of the obstruction of blood flow through the liver. This is further complicated by decreased protein production by the    cirrhotic liver.  The fluid can become infected (spontaneous bacterial peritonitis) and can be life threatening. More often, the fluid causes abdominal discomfort and weight gain.

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