Cirrhosis is a serious degenerative disease that occurs when healthy cells in the liver are damaged and replaced by scar tissue, usually as a result of alcohol abuse or chronic hepatitis. As liver cells give way to tough scar tissue, the organ loses its ability to function properly. Severe damage can lead to liver failure and possibly death.
Cirrhosis poses another danger as well: Dense scarring slows the normal flow of blood through the liver, causing blood to find alternate pathways to return to the heart. This includes veins along the stomach and esophagus. The added pressure in these blood vessels, called varices can cause them to enlarge and, in some cases, rupture. This is especially a problem for the blood vessels in the esophagus.
Every year, about 29,000 people in the U.S. die from cirrhosis, mainly due to alcoholic liver disease and chronic hepatitis C. The disease cannot be reversed or cured except, in some cases, through a liver transplant. It can often be slowed or halted, however, especially if the disease is detected in the early stages of development. Patients who think they might have cirrhosis should see a doctor without delay.
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