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By Joseph R. Cunningham, M.D.
The choices you make this winter could lead to long-term liver damage, including potentially fatal cirrhosis of the liver.
Cirrhosis is caused by a build-up of scar tissue that prevents the liver from doing its job of filtering blood and breaking down harmful substances, among other important functions. The most common causes of cirrhosis of the liver include alcohol abuse, hepatitis, and Fatty Liver Disease. Abuse or overuse of certain drugs—even acetaminophen—can also lead to cirrhosis. Cirrhosis can be deadly: according to the CDC, deaths from alcohol-related liver disease have risen every year since 2006.
The tricky thing about cirrhosis is that it can be nearly undetectable early on. As the disease progresses, symptoms can include fatigue, bleeding and bruising easily, swollen belly and legs, yellow discoloration of skin and eyes, itchy skin, and more. If you suspect you may have cirrhosis, make an appointment with your primary care physician. Even if you may not connect the dots, an ongoing relationship with your doctor could be the key to catching cirrhosis early.
To reduce your risk of cirrhosis, it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle by exercising often, avoiding fatty foods, and limiting substances. If you’re diagnosed with cirrhosis, your doctor will likely work with you on a treatment plan designed to treat the root of the cause. In many cases, lifestyle changes may be enough, but for some, a liver transplant may be the only option.
The liver is an essential organ—you can’t live without it, and it’s the only one you have. Don’t forget to take care of yourself this season.
Joseph R. Cunningham, M.D. is the president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma, a Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company.
(For more Office Visit columns by Dr. Cunningham, visit The Journal Record.)
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