The Liver weighs about three pounds and is the largest organ in the body. It is located in the upper right side of the abdomen, below the ribs. When chronic diseases cause the liver to become permanently injured and scarred, the condition is called cirrhosis. The scar tissue that forms in cirrhosis harms the structure of the liver, blocking the flow of blood through the organ. The loss of normal liver tissue slows the processing of nutrients, hormones, drugs, and toxins by the liver. Also slowed is production of proteins and other substances made by the liver.
Cirrhosis is the eleventh leading cause of death by disease in the United States. Almost one-half of these are alcohol related. About 25,000 people die from cirrhosis each year. There also is a great toll in terms of human suffering, hospital costs, and the loss of work by people with cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis has many causes. It can result from direct injury to the liver cells (i.e., hepatitis) or from indirect injury via inflammation or obstruction to bile ducts which drain the liver cells of bile. Common causes of direct liver injury include chronic alcoholism (most common cause in the United States), chronic viral hepatitis (types B, C, and D) and auto immune hepatitis. Common causes of indirect injury by way of bile duct damage include primary biliary cirrhosis, primary sclerosing cholangitis and biliary atresia (common cause of cirrhosis in infants).