Cirrhosis: Usually Preventable but Common

Cirrhosis of the liver may be more common than once thought, and many people may not know they have the disease

(RxWiki News) Cirrhosis of the liver may usually be preventable, but it may be more common than previously thought. Fortunately, patients can take simple steps to keep their livers in tip-top shape.

A new study found that more people may have cirrhosis than past research had indicated. Also, the majority of those who were diagnosed with cirrhosis did not know they had the disease.

The authors note that cirrhosis is a public health issue, particularly since those who are affected tend to be older and less educated than the general population. They also noted that earlier diagnosis of the condition could lead to better treatment.

Many of the patients in this study said they did not know that they had cirrhosis of the liver.

“Although some of these individuals may simply have forgotten or been confused about the question, this raises the possibility of a large number of undiagnosed cases of cirrhosis,“ said lead study author Steven Scaglione, MD, in a press release.

Dr. Scaglione, of the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, noted that the primary causes of cirrhosis may be preventable.

Cirrhosis results from scarring of the liver. Although common symptoms include yellow skin and eyes, fatigue, bleeding, easy bruising and nausea, some people have no symptoms. Cirrhosis can result in liver cancer or liver failure.

Past estimates of patients with cirrhosis put the number of people with the disease at about 400,000. This new study found that closer to 633,000 people are affected each year.

Dr. Scaglione and team also found that 69 percent of the patients identified as possibly having cirrhosis might not even know they have it.

Alcohol abuse, hepatitis C and diabetes are common contributing causes of liver cirrhosis. Dr. Scaglione’s team found that these three conditions contributed to 53 percent of cirrhosis cases.

People with cirrhosis tended to be older than the general population. In this study, men were more likely to be at risk of cirrhosis than women.

Cirrhosis was also more likely in low-income patients and those who did not have a domestic partner. As the patients' level of education increased, the rate of cirrhosis declined, Dr. Scaglione and team found.

Twenty-five percent of the patients with cirrhosis said they drank alcohol in excess during the prior year and close to half had a positive test for the hepatitis C virus. The hepatitis C virus can cause liver disease.

Patients can keep their liver in tip-top condition by following a healthy diet and not engaging in unprotected sex or using injectable drugs. Patients who drink should only do so in small amounts.

This study took a snapshot of a part of the population at a specific time, rather than following the patients over a longer period, which could have yielded more accurate results.

This study was published Jan. 2 in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology.

The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 5, 2015