Liver Cirrhosis May Also Harm Brain, Heart

TUESDAY Feb. 17, 2009 -- Increased inflammation caused by cirrhosis of the liver might lead people with this disease to also develop neurological, cognitive and heart rhythm problems, a new study finds.

Cirrhosis of the liver, which kills 25,000 people in Unites States annually, is often a result of alcohol abuse or hepatitis C.

The disorder occurs when the liver is damaged and can't properly filter toxins. People with the disorder also tend to have heart-rate issues and a condition known as hepatic (liver) encephalopathy, which occurs when an increasing amount of unfiltered toxins reaches the brain. Hepatic encephalopathy can affect both physical and mental performance.

All three conditions are linked to increased systemic inflammation, say a team from the University College London Medical School and the Royal Free Hospital in London.

In studying people with cirrhosis, the team found strong ties between heart rate issues and hepatic encephalopathy. A person's level of inflammatory cytokines -- molecules that switch on the body's response to inflammation -- climbed as cognitive impairment increased and heart rate variability fell.

The study is published in the February issue of the American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology.

More information

The American Liver Foundation has more about cirrhosis.

Posted: February 2009


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