Risk factors and potential complications of cirrhosis
What are the main risk factors for cirrhosis?
Underlying causes are generally some of the biggest risk factors for liver cirrhosis:
- Chronic hepatitis (B and C)
- Bacterial, fungal or parasitic infections
- Injecting illicit drugs (including shared needles)
- The use of insufficiently sterilised needles used for tattoos and body piercings
- Fatty liver disease
- Autoimmune conditions such as autoimmune hepatitis, primary sclerosing cholangitis and primary biliary cirrhosis
- Rare inherited or genetically associated conditions such as hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease
- Unprotected sexual intercourse
- High levels of triglycerides in blood
Other risk factors can include:
- Gender – women are more prone to liver cirrhosis than men.
- Age – Liver problems are typically more likely to occur in those aged between 30 and 60.
- Genetics – Close family members with liver problems can increase a person’s chances of susceptibility.
What complications are common?
If not already an underlying cause or associated influence (depending on the stage and severity of damage when diagnosed), the below can occur as a result of increased risk at any point:
- Oesophageal varices (abnormal, enlarged veins in the oesophagus)
- Gastrointestinal bleeding (as a result of decreased clotting proteins and rupturing of varices in the oesophagus and stomach)
- Bruising (as a result of low platelet counts and impaired clotting)
- Medication sensitivity
- Liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma or primary liver cancer – tumours develop within the liver. Secondary liver cancer originates outside the liver but spreads to the organ.)
- Renal / kidney dysfunction or failure
- Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance
- Gallstones (due to interference with flow of bile)
- Hepatic encephalopathy
- Oedema (swelling in the lower legs and ankles)
- Ascites (swelling in the abdomen area / fluid retention)
- Splenomegaly or hypersplenism (enlarged spleen due to an accumulation of blood which isn’t able to be drained naturally)
- Portal hypertension (high blood pressure in the portal veins supplying the liver with blood)
- Bacterial peritonitis (increased risk due to ascites) and other infections
- Malnutrition (due to an increased difficulty in processing necessary nutrients)
- Bone disease (along with an increased risk of fractures)
- Acute-on chronic liver failure (multi-organ failure, such as hepatorenal syndrome or hepatopulmonary syndrome, which is associated with advanced cirrhosis, leading to dysfunction within the lungs)