A liver with a sad face

Fibrosis and Cirrhosis: What is the Difference?

Fibrosis versus cirrhosis - what is the difference? This was something that was not explained well to me upon getting my diagnosis in 2005. At the time, it was determined (through a liver biopsy) that my stage of disease was minimal. Clinically, I was at stage 1. But to me, at that time ANY stage was considered bad. I was seeing my mom struggle and to know I even made a stage level was bad. (so, I thought).

Fibrosis and cirrhosis: A confusing distinction

Doing lots of reading and learning by asking questions to my liver doctor was where I began to settle down about focusing on the stage of my liver.

Fibrosis was explained to me as being minimal scarring of the liver. Meaning that the damage was not yet at a stage where it warranted my constant worry. The liver tissue was experiencing minor damage and not to stress too bad over it.

It was not until I was hospitalized in 2010 that the doctors re-did a liver biopsy and shared with me I was NOW in advanced stage liver disease. Meaning, stage 4 cirrhosis. I was devastated. When anyone hears of someone fighting any illness/disease in stage 4 we all know that is not a good stage to be in.

Certainly, with this questions I had even more questions, more fear accompanied my thoughts. I was now totally scared of fibrosis and cirrhosis. But with any new news on my health, it triggers me to investigate deeper into it.

What's the difference?

Cirrhosis is the severe scarring of the liver. With this, you have greater chances of having portal hypertension. This happens when there is increased pressure of the portal vein, therefore possibly causing hemorrhages of the esophageal varices. Ascites is a buildup of fluid in the abdomen. Hepatic encephalopathy is severe brain fog caused by toxins building up in the brain and not getting flushed out of our systems.  Lastly jaundice is the yellowing of the skin caused by other issues from the build-up of bilirubin in the blood.

Within cirrhosis it is very important that you follow up regularly with your liver care team. The threat of liver cancer is higher in this stage. Keep in mind, not everyone will get it but it is best to just keep a regular schedule of CT Scans, ultrasounds, and doctor visits. Stay on top of your liver health!

My experience

To date, I have been CURED of hepatitis C! I am 8 years into being diagnosed stage 4. If I could offer a bit of advice, do not focus on a number. Get your diet clean, exercise, and refrain from anything that could cause more damage to your liver. As my liver team shared, I could live decades in stage 4 with no problem. This diagnosis by no means gives you a time limit. We just need to do our best to help out our liver and give it the best possible chance of surviving.

I am currently enrolled in a clinical trial that monitors late stage livers to see if at this decompensated stage if they can regenerate. I am hopeful and willing to see the outcome. I get regular testing to screen for liver cancer and my last fibro scan shows the liver is doing some regenerating. It is a very slow process and not going as fast as I hoped it would but... it is moving in the right direction finally.

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