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Minority Women's Health

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Cirrhosis and liver disease

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Cirrhosis (suh-ROH-suhss) is scarring of the liver. Scar tissue forms because of injury or diseases you have had for a long time. Scar tissue cannot do what healthy liver tissue does. This includes changing food into energy and cleaning the blood.

People with cirrhosis may have no symptoms in the early stages. As cirrhosis progresses you may:

  • Feel tired or weak
  • Lose your appetite
  • Feel sick to your stomach
  • Lose weight

If too much scarring happens, your liver will stop working, and you will need a liver transplant. About 5 percent of people with cirrhosis also get liver cancer.

In the United States, the most common causes of cirrhosis are drinking too much alcohol and hepatitis. Although Latinas have lower rates of alcohol use than other groups of women, they still have high rates of cirrhosis. This may be explained, in part, by nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is common in Latinos and can cause cirrhosis. NAFLD is a buildup of fat in the liver in people who drink little or no alcohol. Ethnicity may play a role in the tendency of Latinos to develop NALFD. This group also has high rates of obesity and diabetes, which are among the risk factors for NAFLD.

Once you have cirrhosis, nothing can make the scar tissue go away completely. However, treating the cause will keep cirrhosis from getting worse. For instance, if cirrhosis is caused by alcohol use, the treatment is to stop drinking completely. You also can take steps to keep liver disease from progressing to cirrhosis:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can make several liver diseases worse.
  • Eat low-fat, well-balanced meals.
  • Make physical activity a habit. Health benefits are gained by doing the following each week:
    • 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity
    • 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
    • A combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity
    • Muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days of the week
  • Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol can harm liver cells, and chronic alcohol use is one of the major causes of cirrhosis.
  • Stay away from illegal (street) drugs. These can increase your chances of getting some types of hepatitis.
  • Follow the treatment plan advised by your doctor.

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Content last updated: May 18, 2010.

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