Cirrhosis develops when scar tissue begins replacing healthy tissue cells all around the liver. The condition may be the result of long-term excess alcohol or drug use, or hepatitis B or C. The latter is contracted through intercourse or contact with infected blood. Hepatitis C infection is the leading cause of liver cirrhosis in the U.S. When scar tissue builds up over the years, the organ becomes hard and lumpy, and this gradually interferes with the liver’s ability to function. The liver is less able to filter blood, which can cause ruptured blood vessels. In some cases, spleen enlargement or splenomegaly may occur as a complication of liver cirrhosis.
The liver has a unique role when it comes to cleansing the blood and organs, and its proper function is vital to the wellness of the entire body. Fatigue is one of the most commonly described symptoms by individuals with liver cirrhosis, regardless of whether the condition develops from chronic alcohol consumption or hepatitis C. Fatigue may be experienced on and off or constant, and can vary in intensity from mild to debilitating.
Excessive bleeding is one of the most common symptoms of advanced liver cirrhosis. This bleeding is a result of low levels of platelets. Most often in liver cirrhosis, the platelet count is low not because the body doesn’t make enough, but because the platelets are trapped in the spleen. Any unnatural bleeding requires medical attention.
Spider Blood Vessels
One of the most visible signs of liver cirrhosis is spider veins or blood vessels, which appear when an artery surrounded by smaller vessels is affected by liver damage. Spider veins can also develop for other, less serious reasons, however. When caused by liver cirrhosis, a sudden increase of the hormone estradiol causes the vessels to expand and become visible below the skin. Spider veins are more common in individuals with alcohol-related liver cirrhosis than in those with cirrhosis caused by hepatitis C or B.
Gynecomastia is a scientific term for an abnormal increase in breast size in males, resulting from a severe hormone imbalance. Typically, gynecomastia is the byproduct of an increase in estradiol. It causes the breast to enlarge and testosterone to drop. The condition should be further investigated and treated by the physician.
Hypergonadism is the result of a hormonal imbalance, specifically a severe lack of sex hormones. It can occur in both men and women but is more pronounced in men. The condition causes the genitals to shrink and can negatively impact libido. In some instances, it leads to significantly reduced testicular functions. Alcohol consumption affects testosterone levels, mainly because alcohol increases the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to decrease testosterone production. When related to liver cirrhosis, hypogonadism signifies an advanced stage.
Fluid in the Abdomen
About 80% of individuals with liver cirrhosis of the liver develop an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, a condition called ascites. This symptom causes expansion of the abdomen and pronounced veins. If not addressed quickly, fluid in the abdomen can cause organ damage and may lead to death.
Foul breath without changes in dental hygiene can indicate illness. In the case of liver cirrhosis, bad breath develops due to an increase in dimethyl sulfide, a substance that is unleashed when the liver does not function properly. Dimethyl sulfide has a very distinct smell that differs from morning breath and suggests an advanced stage of liver disease.
The breakdown of red blood cells in the body produces bilirubin. This substance travels to the liver and is ultimately eliminated in the stools. When the liver malfunctions, as happens in liver cirrhosis, too much bilirubin may build up in the liver. This yellowish substance can turn the skin and whites of the eyes yellow when in excess. Bilirubin present in large quantities indicates toxins are not being eliminated properly, a warning that the body is at risk of poisoning itself.Jaundice requires treatment and lifestyle changes that often include eliminating alcohol consumption.
Bilirubin can cause dark urine, as well, a symptom that may be more immediately noticeable than slightly discolored skin. Luckily, dark urine is usually a sign of liver cirrhosis and can prompt doctors to investigate and diagnose more quickly. Dehydration can also make the urine darker than normal, so doctors will rule out this possibility before conducting liver tests.
Enlarged Liver that Becomes Smaller Over Time
Initially, inflammation of the liver will cause liver enlargement. However, as the disease progresses and turns into cirrhosis, the amount of scar tissue increases, making the liver smaller. The scar tissue affects blood flow, causing further damage and shrinking of the organ.