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Chronic liver disease is most clearly described as a gradual destruction of the liver tissue that happens over time. This is a disease process that involves progressive destruction and regeneration of liver parenchyma. Parenchyma is actually a functional part in an organ of the body. The final result of this progressive destruction is fibrosis and cirrhosis. Chronic liver disease develops at a slow pace and usually after a long period of time. In the United States, chronic liver diseases are one of the leading causes of death. In many cases, the exact cause of chronic liver disease is unknown. On the other hand, it mostly results as an effect of chronic alcohol abuse, obesity or exposure to hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses.

Cirrhosis of the liver

Cirrhosis is caused by chronic damage to the liver. Cirrhosis is actually formation of the scar tissue in the liver that obstructs the normal blood flow through the liver and causes reduction in normal functioning of this important organ. Liver’s function is to process and filter nutrients, hormones, drugs and poisons and when something is wrong in this process, the whole body’s health is jeopardized. Symptoms of cirrhosis include jaundice, abnormal nerve function, breast enlargement in men, curling of the fingers, formation of gallstones, hair loss, muscle loss, poor appetite, weakness, fatigue, weight loss and coughing up or vomiting blood.

Fibrosis of the liver

Fibrosis of the liver is quite similar to cirrhosis. However, there is a thin line that separates these conditions. Fibrosis is not only the result of necrosis, organ failure and scaring of the tissue, but it also results from the excessive accumulation of extracellular matrix proteins, such as collagen. Liver fibrosis results in cirrhosis, liver failure, and portal hypertension. In most cases, the patient will need to receive liver transplantation in order to survive and continue living normally.

Facts and figures

According to the official statistics, African American men are 80% more likely to have chronic liver disease than the rest of the population. Asian American women are 2.4 times more likely die from complications of this disease, compared to people for other ethnic groups. Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders are seven times more likely to develop this disease, compared to the rest of non-Hispanic whites.

Chronic liver disease was the fifth leading cause of death among Americans, in 2007. At the same time, it was the third leading cause of death for men aged between 35 and 44.

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