Alcoholism-Not the Only cause of Liver Cirrhosis

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The holidays are coming. And so are get-togethers and all sorts of merry-making. When any of these happen, what is the the one thing that won’t be missing in the table (okay, next to food, perhaps)?

You guessed it right. It’s alcohol, alright. Call it booze, beer, wine, sake, whisky or scotch- alcohol is a staple when it comes to holidaying with friends and family. Before you worry too much about your liver though, you have to know that drinking alcohol is not the only cause of cirrhosis, the irreversible scarring and decreased function of the liver. Most people who drink large amounts of alcohol harm their livers in some way, but not all of these people get cirrhosis of the liver. In the United States, alcohol causes less than one-half of cirrhosis cases. The remaining cases are from diseases that cause liver damage.

Alcoholism is just one of many causes of cirrhosis. The top three main causes of cirrhosis in the US  are  Hepatitis C, fatty liver, and yes, alcohol abuse, but anything that damages the liver can cause cirrhosis, including:

  • Chronic viral infections of the liver (aside from hepatitis C, types B, and D can also cause cirrhosis)
  • Blocked bile duct, which can be caused by the absence of or damaged biliary atresia which causes bile to back up in the liver among babies
  • Damaged bile ducts due to inflammation, blockage, or scarring caused by another liver disease called primary biliary cirrhosis among adults
  • Repeated bouts of heart failure with fluid backing up into the liver
  • Diseases of abnormal storage of metals (like copper – also called Wilson’s disease) in the body
  • Severe reaction to prescription drugs
  • Prolonged exposure to environmental toxins
  • Parasitic infections.
  • Inherited diseases such as: Cystic fibrosis (scarring and cyst formation within the pancreas; Glycogen storage diseases (the body is unable to process glycogen, a form of sugar that is converted to glucose and serves as a source of energy for the body) ; Alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency (an absence of a specific enzyme in the liver); hemochromatosis (a condition in which excessive iron is absorbed and deposited into the liver and other organs)
  • Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis also known as NASH(liver inflammation caused by a buildup of fat in the liver)which is becoming the most common liver disease in the United States, affecting 2 to 5 percent of Americans. NASH is associated with the increasing prevalence of obesity and diabetes.

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How can other diseases cause cirrhosis? The said diseases lead to cirrhosis because they injure and kill liver cells, and the inflammation and repair that is associated with the dying liver cells causes scar tissue to form. The liver cells that do not die multiply in an attempt to replace the cells that have died. This results in clusters of newly-formed liver cells (regenerative nodules) within the scar tissue. The scar tissue blocks the flow of blood through the liver and slows the processing of nutrients, hormones, drugs, and naturally produced toxins along with the other substances proteins made by the liver.

Cirrhosis is a slowly progressing disease, developing slowly over many years, until it can eventually stop liver function (liver failure). The early stages of cirrhosis do not normally show signs and symptoms. However, as scar tissue accumulates the liver’s ability to function properly is compromised.  Consult your health care provider immediately if experience any of the following:

  • Blood capillaries become visible on the skin on the upper abdomen
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Itchy skin
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of bodyweight
  • Nausea
  • Pain or tenderness in the area where the liver is located
  • Red or blotchy palms
  • Weakness

Alcohol isn’t all the culprit  in this deadly disease, and the first step in guarding one’s (yours and your loved ones) health is to be well-informed.

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