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Liver Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is a condition where normal liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue (fibrosis). The scarring tends to be a gradual process. The scar tissue affects the normal structure and regrowth of liver cells. Liver cells become damaged and die as scar tissue gradually develops. So, the liver gradually loses its ability to function well. The scar tissue can also affect the blood flow through the liver which can cause back pressure in the blood vessels which bring blood to the liver.

About 1 in 10 heavy drinkers will eventually develop cirrhosis. It tends to occur after 10 or more years of heavy drinking. Note: cirrhosis can develop in people who have never had alcoholic hepatitis.

Cirrhosis can happen from many causes other than alcohol. For example, persistent viral hepatitis and some hereditary and metabolic diseases. If you have another persistent liver disease, and drink heavily, you are likely to increase your risk of developing cirrhosis.

Cirrhosis can lead to end-stage liver disease (liver failure). However, in the early stages of the condition, often there are no symptoms. You can get by with a reduced number of working liver cells. But, as more and more liver cells die, and more and more scar tissue builds up, symptoms start to appear. The eventual symptoms and complications are similar to a severe episode of hepatitis (listed above). However, unlike a bout of severe hepatitis, the symptoms and complications tend to develop slowly.

It is not clear why some people are more prone for their liver cells to be damaged by alcohol and to develop hepatitis and/or cirrhosis. But, as a rule, the heavier you drink, and the more regularly that you drink, the more your risk of developing hepatitis and/or cirrhosis.

The scaring and damage of cirrhosis is usually permanent and cannot be reversed. However, recent research has led to a greater understanding of cirrhosis. Research suggests that it may be possible to develop medicines in the future which can reverse the scarring process of cirrhosis.

More information on the condition can be found the NHS Choices website.