Liver Hepatitis C Related Conditions Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is a buildup of scar tissue in the liver caused by chronic damage and inflammation. Cirrhosis can be caused by a number of conditions, including hepatitis C.

The liver performs several essential functions in the body, including filtering and removing wastes and toxins. Chronic hepatitis C infection damages the liver, causing permanent cirrhosis that can further impair liver function.

Diagnosis and Symptoms of Cirrhosis

If you have cirrhosis of the liver, you may not experience symptoms until the liver has suffered severe damage. Symptoms of cirrhosis can include:

  • Bleeding or bruising easily
  • Fatigue
  • Fluid accumulation in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Nausea, loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Swelling in the legs (edema).

If you experience any of these symptoms, see your doctor, particularly if you know you have hepatitis C. Your physician can diagnose cirrhosis with a number of tests. A blood test can determine the presence of anemia or liver function problems. Imaging tests, such as computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), can detect an enlarged liver or reduced blood flow–two possible signs of cirrhosis. Finally, a liver biopsy can confirm the diagnosis, but may not always be necessary.

How Does Hepatitis C Cause Cirrhosis?

The hepatitis C virus replicates by invading the cells of the liver, called hepatocytes. An acute hepatitis C infection may clear spontaneously without damage to the liver. However, when the infection becomes chronic (lasting longer than six months), constant damage and inflammation in the liver can cause the formation of scar tissue associated with cirrhosis.

What are my Chances of Developing Cirrhosis with Hepatitis C?

The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (2006) estimates that at least 20 percent of individuals with chronic hepatitis C develop cirrhosis of the liver, and that hepatitis C is one of the leading causes of cirrhosis in the United States.

Since hepatitis C often presents with few, if any, symptoms, it can cause undetected liver damage, including cirrhosis, for years before it’s diagnosed. If you experience any symptoms of cirrhosis, report these to your doctor.

Complications of Hepatitis C and Cirrhosis

The buildup of scar tissue in the liver can cause a number of complications, including:

  • Insulin resistance, which can cause Type 2 diabetes
  • Portal hypertension, in which blood flow from the spleen and intestines is slowed, leading to increased pressure on the portal vein and increased risk of internal bleeding.

Severe cases of cirrhosis may cause liver failure and require a liver transplant. If you develop cirrhosis from hepatitis C, your risk of developing primary liver cancer increases.

Resources

Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Cirrhosis. Retrieved October 10, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cirrhosis/DS00373.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. (2006). Chronic hepatitis C: Current disease management. Retrieved October 10, 2010, from http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/chronichepc/.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. (2006). Cirrhosis. Retrieved October 10, 2010, from http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/cirrhosis/.