The etiology, diagnosis and prevention of liver cirrhosis: part 1 of a series on liver cirrhosis

Johannes Wiegand, Thomas Berg
Deutsches Ärzteblatt International 2013, 110 (6): 85-91

BACKGROUND: Cirrhosis of the liver is the end stage of chronic liver disease. Among the many liver disorders that can lead to cirrhosis, some progress rapidly (years) and others more slowly (decades). In Germany, cirrhosis is often a consequence of fatty liver disease due to alcoholism or other causes, but can also be caused by hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Cirrhosis is more common in overweight persons and smokers. The underlying causes of cirrhosis determine its rate of progression and are the focus of preventive efforts and treatment. The prevalence of cirrhosis in Germany is rising; it now ranks among the top 20 causes of death in the country.

METHODS: This article is based on a selective review of pertinent literature, including reviews and current guidelines.

RESULTS: Strictly speaking, cirrhosis is a pathological diagnosis; it is, nevertheless, usually diagnosed clinically, by history, physical examination (e.g., cutaneous signs of liver disease), ancillary testing (e.g., ultrasonography, transient elastography) and laboratory analyses (e,g., APRI, which is the quotient of the GOT concentration and the platelet count). There are no laboratory cutoff values for the diagnosis of cirrhosis. Early detection of chronic liver disease, followed by individually tailored, risk-adapted treatment, is the best way to prevent it. Esophagogastroduodenoscopy can be performed early on to assess the risk of variceal bleeding. In most patients, the progression of fibrosis can be averted by early detection and appropriate treatment.

CONCLUSION: Screening for chronic liver disease should include history and physical examination, serum transaminase measurement, upper abdominal ultrasonography, and, in some cases, transient elastography.

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