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Cirrhosis of the liver and its complications: Cirrhosis is the result of chronic liver disease that causes scarring of the liver (fibrosis - nodular regeneration) and liver dysfunction. This often has many complications, including accumulation of fluid in the abdomen (ascites), bleeding disorders (coagulopathy), increased pressure in the blood vessels (portal hypertension), and confusion or a change in the level of consciousness (hepatic encephalopathy). Cirrhosis is caused by chronic liver disease; a liver biopsy confirms cirrhosis.

Common causes of chronic liver disease in the US include hepatitis C infection and long-term alcohol abuse.

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Alcoholic hepatitis usually occurs after years of excessive drinking. The longer the duration of alcohol use and the greater the consumption of alcohol, the greater the probability of developing liver disease.

Malnutrition develops as a result of empty calories from alcohol, reduced appetite, and malabsorption (inadequate absorption of nutrients from the intestinal tract). Malnutrition contributes to liver disease.

The toxicity of ethanol to the liver, individual susceptibility to alcohol-induced liver disease, and genetic factors also contribute to the development of alcoholic liver disease.

Alcoholic liver disease does not affect all heavy drinkers, and women may be more susceptible than men. Drunkenness is not essential for the development of the disease.

In some drinkers, the rate of alcohol metabolism can be high enough to allow for the consumption of large quantities of alcohol without raising the blood alcohol level to detectable concentrations by conventional breath analyzer.

Changes start within the liver as inflammation (hepatitis) and progress to fatty liver and cirrhosis.

Cirrhosis is the final phase of alcoholic liver disease. Symptoms may not be present until the disease is relatively advanced.

Serious complications associated with advanced disease include:

  • alcoholic encephalopathy (damage to brain tissue) and
  • portal hypertension (high blood pressure within the liver)

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