Cirrhosis of the Liver
Cirrhosis of the liver refers to all forms of liver disease characterized by a significant loss of cells. It is one of the most serious hepatic diseases. The liver gradually contracts in size and becomes hard and leathery.

The liver is one of the most important glandular organs in the body. It is located high up on the right side of the abdomen just under the diaphragm. It is a vast chemical laboratory which performs many important functions. It produces bile, cholesterol, lecithin, blood albumin vital to the removal of tissue wastes prothrombin essential to the clotting of blood and numerous enzymes. It inactivates hormones no longer needed, synthesizes many amino acids used in building tissues and breaks proteins into sugar and fat when required for energy. It stores vitamins and minerals. It also destroys harmful substances and detoxifies drugs, poisons, chemicals and toxins from bacterial infections. Liver damage interferes with all of these functions.

In cirrhosis of the liver, although regenerative activity continues, the progressive loss of liver cells exceeds cell replacement. There is also a progressive distortion of the vascular system which interferes with the portal blood flow through the liver. The progressive degeneration of liver structure and function may ultimately lead to hepatic failure and death.

In the early stages, there may be frequent attacks of gas and indigestion, with occasional nausea and vomiting. There may be some abdominal pain and loss of weight. In the advanced stage, the patient develops a low-grade fever. Foul breath jaundiced skin and distended veins in the abdomen. Reddish hair-like markings, resembling small spiders, may appear on the face, neck, arms and trunk. The abdomen becomes bloated and swollen, the mind gets clouded and there may be considerable bleeding from the stomach.

Excessive use of alcohol over a long period is the most potent cause of cirrhosis of the liver. It has been estimated that one out of 12 chronic alcoholics in the United States develops cirrhosis. The disease can progress to end-stage of hepatic failure if the person does not abstain from alcohol. Cirrhosis appears to be related to the duration of alcohol intake and the quantity consumed daily. 

Recent research indicates that the average duration of alcohol intake to produce cirrhosis is 10 years and the dose is estimated to be in excess of 500 ml of alcohol daily.

Poor nutrition can be another causative factor in the development of cirrhosis and a chronic alcoholic usually suffers from severe malnutrition as he seldom eats. Other causes of cirrhosis are an excessive intake of highly seasoned food, the habitual taking of quinine for a prolonged period in a tropical climate, and drug treatments for syphilis, fever, and other diseases. It may also result from a highly toxic condition of the system in general.