Cirrhosis is a form of liver disease marked by the formation of scar tissue and a significant decline in the organ’s ability to function normally. If left untreated, it can lead to liver failure and death. Current research indicates that it’s possible to reverse the effects of cirrhosis in some cases. However, as a rule, people with reversible forms of the illness have liver scarring triggered by something other than prolonged heavy drinking.
Basics of Cirrhosis
In addition to chronic heavy alcohol consumption, cirrhosis of the liver is an effect of conditions such as:
- Chronic hepatitis (B or C)
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis
- Autoimmune liver inflammation
- Certain genetically inherited illnesses, and
- Any illness that blocks, injures or completely destroys the bile ducts that connect your liver to your small intestine
The presence of cirrhosis hinders your liver’s ability to perform some of its most essential, life-supporting functions. If enough scar tissue forms inside the organ, it can fail altogether and set off a potentially fatal health crisis.
Reversibility of the Condition
Doctors and researchers once believed that liver scarring would inevitably grow worse over time. However, current evidence indicates that the condition can actually be reversed if cirrhosis of the liver is an effect of specific health problems. Examples of these problems include:
- Hepatitis B, hepatitis C and other viral illnesses
- Autoimmune hepatitis (especially common in women), and
- Metabolic liver disease (a condition caused by unusual changes in the body’s chemical balance that disrupt normal metabolism)
Still, even when these conditions trigger cirrhosis, doctors can’t guarantee that they can reverse the illness, especially when present in its advanced form. One type of liver scarring is missing from the list of commonly reversible conditions: alcohol-related cirrhosis, which occurs in roughly one to two out of every 10 people who consume alcohol in excessive amounts for extended periods of time. The American Liver Foundation reports that once alcohol-related cirrhosis occurs, even if you stop drinking, you cannot reverse this form of cirrhosis. Instead, doctors aim to slow down or halt the progression of the scarring process and help their patients avoid severe complications of the condition. However, they can only achieve these goals if you seek treatment and abstain from further alcohol intake. Resources National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Cirrhosis https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/cirrhosis American Liver Foundation: Alcohol-Related Liver Disease http://www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/alcohol/ Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics: Review Article – The Reversibility of Cirrhosis http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/apt.12044/full