A condition of the liver arising from long-term damage to its cells. In cirrhosis, bands of fibrosis (internal scarring) develop, leaving nodules of regenerating cells that are inadequately supplied with blood. Liver function is gradually impaired; the liver no longer effectively removes toxic substances from the blood (see liver failure). The distortion and fibrosis also lead to portal hypertension. The most common cause of cirrhosis is heavy alcohol consumption. Other causes include forms of hepatitis and, more rarely, disorders of the bile ducts, haemochromatosis, Wilson’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and heart failure. Cirrhosis may go unrecognized until symptoms such as mild jaundice, oedema, and vomiting of blood develop. There may be enlargement of the liver and spleen and, in men, enlargement of the breasts and loss of body hair due to an imbalance in sex hormones caused by liver failure. Complications of cirrhosis include ascites, oesophageal varices, and hepatoma. Treatment is focused on slowing the rate at which liver cells are being damaged, if possible by treating the cause. In some cases, however, the condition progresses and a liver transplant may be considered.


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