Cirrhosis is the medical term used to describe scarring of the liver. The liver is an important major organ in the human body, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, carries out a number of essential functions. These include removing harmful substances from the body, purifying the blood and producing vital nutrients. According to its severity, cirrhosis can impair these important functions. As the Mayo Clinic points out, there are a number of different causes of cirrhosis.
Chronic alcohol abuse
Chronic alcohol abuse can cause significant damage to the liver and is one of the major causes of cirrhosis. Alcohol is one of the toxins that the liver tries to filter out of the body. When alcohol is consumed in relatively small doses, the liver is able to function normally; however, when an excess of alcohol is consumed, the liver is unable to cope. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, alcohol causes swelling and inflammation of the liver. Over time, this leads to scarring (cirrhosis), which is the final phase of alcoholic liver disease.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is a condition that affects the liver in a similar way as chronic alcohol abuse, but affects people who consume very little or even no alcohol at all. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is a common condition that typically causes no symptoms. In some patients, however, fat accumulation in the liver can cause inflammation and subsequent cirrhosis. Very severe cases can cause complete liver failure.
Bile duct inflammation
Bile is an important substance produced in the liver. Bile aids in the digestion of fat and helps the liver operate efficiently. Bile ducts drain bile from the liver on an ongoing basis. Primary sclerosing cholangitis is a disease that affects the bile ducts. According to the Mayo Clinic, the condition causes the bile ducts to become inflamed, harden and scar. Over time, this can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure. Primary biliary cirrhosis occurs when the bile ducts are completely destroyed.
Cystic fibrosis is an inherited condition that can cause severe damage to the lungs and digestive system. A defective gene in cystic fibrosis patients causes body secretions such as sweat, mucus and digestive juices to become thick and sticky. This, in turn, blocks tubes, ducts and passageways. Cystic fibrosis can cause the bile ducts inside and outside the liver to become blocked, leading to cirrhosis and liver damage over time.
Galactosemia is a rare condition similar to lactose intolerance; patients have problems breaking down the sugar in milk. According to the Genetics and Rare Diseases Information Center, patients with galactosemia have a deficiency of the enzyme that breaks down galactose. Small children are particularly vulnerable. If it is left untreated, newborn infants can suffer life-threatening complications within days. A build-up of galactose in the liver can cause cirrhosis and subsequent liver damage.