ZocdocAnswersWhat is cirrhosis?

Question

What is cirrhosis?

My mother was an alcoholic for much of her life. She doesn't drink anymore, and she hasn't for years. But she only stopped when the doctor said she was developing cirrhosis. I don't think she takes any special care for the cirrhosis or is treating it in any way. Is this a problem? Does it get better if you stop drinking?

Answer

Cirrhosis is a complex liver disease that can develop in patients that have a history of long stand alcohol use, hepatitis B or C infections, certain metabolic syndromes, or certain autoimmune diseases. Liver cirrhosis occurs when there are toxic, infectious or immune assaults to the organ over many years. Healthy liver cells are replaced with non-functioning tissue. The end result is that the liver stops doing the things it normally does. The first step when someone is diagnosed with cirrhosis is to remove the cause (in your mother's case it was most likely alcohol). This does not reverse the disease, but rather slows the progression. There are treatments both medical and surgical for the symptoms of cirrhosis, but we don't have any way of reversing the damage. The only definitive treatment for cirrhosis is liver transplant. The treatment of patients with liver cirrhosis is complex and very individualized. That is why it is important for her to be seen regularly so that her symptoms can be managed. Her doctor will likely monitor certain blood tests which can track what stage her disease is at and therefore predict what complications she is at risk for before they happen. This is admittedly only a brief overview of the disease. In encourage you to learn more about the disease so that you can help your mother with her condition. Good luck.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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