The Definitive Guide To Liver Cirrhosis
As a nurse in recovery that works in addiction medicine I'm often faced with having to explain the negative effects drugs and alcohol have had on our clients health. I decided to talk about Liver Cirrhosis because it's one of the most common things I see in our treatment centers.
In essence liver cirrhosis is when the liver has so many scars that it can't function properly. When our clients come in we do lab work that will show how the liver is functioning, and with almost all of our alcohol clients there are elevated liver enzymes which indicate damage to the liver. The most frequent question I get asked is, "well will those numbers go down?!" The answer isn't straightforward. Elevated enzymes like AST, ALT, ALP indicate that there was a "cut" on the liver from alcohol. It will heal but it will leave a scar. An analogy to use would be to compare liver enzymes to blood. If you get a cut on your body you're going to bleed. If you were in a body of water like a pool or bathtub, we could measure how much blood is in the water. It's the same for the liver enzymes, they're like blood that has leaked from the liver. If you cut your hand it will bleed but heal and the blood will disappear but the scar from the cut will remain. If you get a thousand cuts on your hand eventually you won't be able to move your hand and you'll lose it's function. It's similar to the liver. Every time someone drinks excessively there is damage to the liver. Eventually this will lead to Liver Cirrhosis.
Look at the two livers below: The top one is healthy and the bottom one has many scars on it.
People who develop cirrhosis will look yellow, called "Jaundiced". This is because the liver can't process bilirubin in the blood. This is usually the sign that most people identify Cirrhosis with. However, the liver serves many purposes. Here's a quick list of a few of the common signs I see in practice.
Bleeding. The liver produces clotting factors so you don't bleed out when you get a cut. When you have cirrhosis you're more likely to bleed.
Swelling in the legs and abdomen. Because the liver can't produce important components of blood that keep fluids from leaking out, you'll often see those with cirrhosis have bloated bellies and legs. Their arms and face look skinny but they look severely pregnant and bloated.
Infection. The liver produces blood cells that help fight infection, when it goes out so does your ability to fight infection.
Hepatic Encephalopathy. A natural biproduct of human blood is waste. The liver is responsible for processing and cleaning this waste and when it isn't done you'll start to see people acting mentally impaired. They'll be forgetful, slow witted, and generally come off as mentally handicapped. This is due to the build up of toxins.
I'll close with a story. I had a patient come in last week looking severely jaundiced. We admitted him but he clearly was suffering from hepatic encephalopathy and we sent him to the ER. At the hospital they told him he had a few months to live because he was in end stage liver cirrhosis. His family was heartbroken, but it's much worse than simply that he was going to die. I worked on a floor filled with patients who were in end-stage liver failure from alcohol. It was the saddest floor I've ever seen because many of these patients had lost all connection with family while drinking. They laid in bed and would tell me stories about how they wanted to be something and they always thought they'd have time. Many died alone and feeling like their entire life was wasted. It's sad to see because there is a way to live life sober and happy. When you make the step to get clean you are making a decision to live the life you always wanted, even if it's ard to get there. If you're a women in recovery I highly recommend treatment followed by a stay in sober living. There are several things you can to do put the odds in your favor. Make the choice today.