Cryptogenic cirrhosis is a type of liver disease for which there is no easily identifiable cause. While alcohol is often attributed to liver scarring, patients with this form of cirrhosis are not alcoholics and medical examinations do not readily reveal the cause of liver scarring in these individuals. Although people with this type of liver disease do not consume alcohol in excess, the fibrosis found in the liver’s tissue is reminiscent of that found in a person suffering from alcoholic liver disease.
It's possible that another type of liver disease known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which is a buildup of fat in the liver, may lead to cryptogenic cirrhosis. Individuals with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis are not heavy drinkers and some do not consume alcohol at all. In fact, some of the youngest victims are children. NASH is often described as a slow and silent killer, since most people afflicted with it are not aware of its presence before being diagnosed with advanced liver scarring.
Cryptogenic cirrhosis is one of the most common reasons for a person receiving a liver transplant. For most people, when cirrhosis is detected in its early stages, there is a chance of stopping the conditions leading to the scarring and, as a result, salvaging the liver. This is not necessarily the case for individuals diagnosed with this type of cirrhosis, however, since the cause is not always pinpointed in time to correct the issue and prevent further damage. Also, even after liver transplantation, people with cirrhosis caused by NASH tend to develop liver scarring on the transplanted liver.
Theoretically, cryptogenic cirrhosis can affect people of any age, but studies indicate that it is most commonly discovered in individuals age 60 and older. In cases where cirrhosis was caused by NASH, there also appears to be a slow progression between the two conditions.
While the initial diagnosis may be inflammation and scarring due to unidentified causes, medical professionals eventually do find what is causing liver scarring in some patients. Besides NASH, the most common causes of this condition are obesity and diabetes. In cases where cirrhosis was preceded by NASH, there is research to indicate that NASH was actually caused by type 2 diabetes or obesity.
Some of the symptoms of this condition include fatigue, unintended or unexplained weight loss, jaundice, fever, abdominal swelling, and bloody stools. Preceding cirrhosis, the symptoms of NASH may include similar symptoms, such as unexplained weight loss, fatigue, and weakness. A full medical examination of individuals experiencing these symptoms is the only way to determine whether a person is afflicted with either.