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Cirrhosis.

That's the medical term for scarring in the liver.

Cirrhosis can impact many parts of your life.

Having the right knowledge and support can make living with it easier.

Before we talk about cirrhosis, let's go over some things about the liver.

The liver is one of the largest and most important organs in your body.

It's like a factory that does hundreds of jobs.

Medicine and all the things you eat and drink travel from your stomach, to your gut, and then into your blood.

Your blood gets to the liver through a large blood vessel called the portal vein.

In a soft, healthy liver, blood flows in easily, like water from a hose pouring into a sponge.

Now, the factory work begins.

Your liver takes things to store for your body, like sugar and vitamins.

It also takes out things like toxins and bacteria.

It breaks down medicine so your body can use it.

It makes proteins that help your blood clot.

And it makes bile that drains out of your liver, through small tubes called bile ducts.

Bile travels to your gut where it helps you digest food.

Many things can damage the liver.

Alcohol is a major one.

Having too much fat in the liver can damage it too.

This can happen to people who are overweight, or who have conditions like diabetes or high cholesterol.

Viruses like hepatitis B and C, can also cause damage.

There are genetic diseases passed on through families and other diseases that can make your immune system attack your liver or bile ducts.

Whatever the source, damage to the liver can cause scar tissue.

Over time, this shrinks and hardens the liver.

This is called cirrhosis.

If you've been diagnosed with cirrhosis, you'll be wondering what to expect.

Cirrhosis has 2 stages.

For most people, it gets worse over time.

But treating the cause, like quitting alcohol or getting rid of hepatitis C, can help a lot.

The early stage is called compensated cirrhosis.

In this stage, some people have symptoms like low energy or feel really tired.

Others have no symptoms at all.

In fact, it's really common to have compensated cirrhosis for years and not know it.

Remember, in a healthy liver blood flows in, like water from a hose into a sponge.

Now, imagine the sponge is hard like a rock.

Water can't flow in easily, and pressure builds in the hose.

Just like with the hose and the rock, pressure in the portal vein builds when the liver gets scarred and hard.

This is called portal hypertension.

Pressure build-up can spread to nearby blood vessels and make your spleen bigger.

When you have a big spleen, it can take longer to stop bleeding and you can bruise easier.

These symptoms are also part of the compensated stage.

If the pressure builds too high and the liver can't do all its factory jobs, you can have major complications.

This includes fluid build-up in your abdomen or belly, called ascites.

Or bleeding from swollen veins in your esophagus, your food pipe, called variceal bleeding.

Forgetfulness and confusion can be another complication.

This is called hepatic encephalopathy.

If you get any of these complications, the stage is now called decompensated cirrhosis.

At this stage you'll need to work more closely with your healthcare team.

Depending on your age and other medical conditions, they may even suggest a liver transplant.

No matter what stage your cirrhosis is at, having the right knowledge and support can help.

We understand you may have many thoughts and feelings if you've been diagnosed with cirrhosis.

Remember, your healthcare team is here to support you.

Reach out to them if you have questions.

To learn more, visit cirrhosiscare.ca or MyHealth.Alberta.ca.



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