Several processes can lead to cirrhosis.
Chronic alcoholism particularly endangers the liver by causing alcoholic liver disease (also called alcohol-induced liver disease). Alcoholic liver disease includes fatty liver (build-up of fat cells in the liver), alcoholic hepatitis (inflammation of the liver caused by chronic drinking), and alcoholic cirrhosis. Alcoholic cirrhosis is the primary type of cirrhosis in the U.S. It develops in 10 - 20% of heavy drinkers, usually after 10 - 15 years of heavy alcohol consumption. People who drink heavily and who also have hepatitis C are at particular risk of developing cirrhosis. In the liver, alcohol converts to toxic chemicals that trigger inflammation and tissue injury, which lead to cirrhosis.
Chronic hepatitis, both hepatitis B and hepatitis C, is another primary cause of cirrhosis. Chronic hepatitis C is a more common cause of cirrhosis in developed countries, while hepatitis B is a more common cause of cirrhosis worldwide, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia. People with chronic hepatitis B who are co-infected with hepatitis D are especially at risk for cirrhosis. The longer a patient has had chronic hepatitis, the greater the risk for eventually developing cirrhosis.
The hepatitis virus can produce inflammation in liver cells, causing injury or destruction. If the condition is severe enough, the cell damage becomes progressive, building a layer of scar tissue over the liver. In advanced cases, as with alcoholic cirrhosis, the liver shrivels in size, a condition called postnecrotic or posthepatic cirrhosis.
Autoimmune hepatitis, like other autoimmune disorders, develops when a misdirected immune system attacks the body's own cells and organs. People who have autoimmune hepatitis also often have other autoimmune conditions, including systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sj√∂gren syndrome, scleroderma, inflammatory bowel disease, glomerulonephritis, and hemolytic anemia. Autoimmune hepatitis typically occurs in women ages 15 - 40.
Disorders that block or damage the bile ducts, can cause bile to back up in the liver leading to inflammation and cirrhosis. These diseases include primary biliary cirrhosis and primary sclerosing chlorangitis.
Primary Biliary Cirrhosis. Up to 95% of primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) cases occur in women, usually around age 50. In people with PBC, the immune system attacks and destroys cells in the liver‚ ' s bile ducts. Like many autoimmune disorders, the causes of PBC are unknown.
Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis. Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) is a chronic disease that mostly affects men, usually around age 40. The cause is unknown, but immune system defects, genetics, and infections may play a role.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) resembles alcoholic liver disease, but it occurs in people who do not drink a lot of alcohol. Obesity and type 2 diabetes are the two main causes of a fatty liver. Some evidence suggests that insulin resistance (the primary problem in type 2 diabetes) is a major factor in development of a fatty liver. A diet high in fatty foods may also be a risk factor, as dietary fat accumulates in the liver. Due to the recent rise in childhood obesity, NAFLD is increasingly occurring in children. In fact, NAFLD is now the most common liver disease in American children.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can lead to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Liver inflammation and injury, as well as a fatty liver, characterize NASH. NASH occurs in about half of people with diabetes and up to 75% of obese people.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is usually benign and very slowly progressive. But, in certain patients, it can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure, or liver cancer. About 8 - 20% of people with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis go on to develop cirrhosis.
Hemochromatosis. Hemochromatosis is a disorder of iron metabolism. This disease interferes with the way the body normally gets rid of iron. People with hemochromatosis absorb too much more iron from the food that they eat. The iron overload accumulates in organs in the body. When excess iron deposits accumulate in the liver, they can cause cirrhosis.
Other Hereditary Disorders. Other inherited diseases that can cause cirrhosis include Wilson‚ ' s disease (which causes an accumulation of copper in the body), alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (a genetic disorder caused by defective production of a particular enzyme), and glycogen storage diseases (a group of disorders that cause abnormal amounts of glycogen to be stored in the liver).
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