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Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that deaths from alcohol-related liver disease – including cirrhosis – have risen every year since 2006. Nearly every racial, ethnic and age group have seen increases. Experts even warn that human life expectancy is falling the in United States as a result.
Are you or a loved one at risk for cirrhosis? Here’s some important information to keep in mind about the disease.
Most importantly, no one can live without a liver. It performs vital functions that keep the body healthy. Among its functions, the liver turns food and drink into energy and nutrients. It also removes harmful toxins such as alcohol from the blood.
Because of its importance, any problem with the liver can be cause for concern. That includes cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis is a disease in which scar tissue builds up in the liver. The scar tissue keeps the liver from working as it should. Anything that harms the liver can cause cirrhosis, but the most common causes are:
Beginning in the 1970s and through the early 1990s, there were a large number of Hepatitis C infections. Given that it can take 20 to 30 years for cirrhosis to appear in Hepatitis C patients, it is not surprising that the number cirrhosis has recently grown. And experts expect it to keep increasing in the years to come.
Unfortunately, the disease is basically undetectable in its early stages. As it progresses, symptoms can include:
In the Loyola University study sponsored by BCBSIL, researchers found some other insights:
If you experience any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as you can. Your doctor will usually do an exam, order blood tests and possibly perform a biopsy the liver if he or she believes you have cirrhosis.
There is no magic pill or treatment that can cure cirrhosis. There are ways to slow or stop its progress, though. Treatment depends on the cause of your cirrhosis. Options can range from lifestyle changes (stop drinking alcohol, lose weight, etc.) to medications. If the liver damage is severe, your doctor may suggest a liver transplant.
When you take care of your liver, you lower your chances of getting cirrhosis. Here are some steps you can take:
Take steps now to protect your liver and reduce your risk for cirrhosis.
Originally published 3/28/2016; Revised 2018, 2021
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