Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver.

Cirrhosis is a late stage of scarring (fibrosis) of the liver caused by many forms of liver diseases and conditions, such as hepatitis and chronic alcohol abuse. The liver carries out several necessary functions, including detoxifying harmful substances in your body, cleaning your blood and making vital nutrients.

The liver damage done by cirrhosis can't be undone. But if liver cirrhosis is diagnosed early and the cause is treated, further damage can be limited. As cirrhosis progresses, more and more scar tissue forms, making it difficult for the liver to function (decompensated cirrhosis). Advanced cirrhosis is life-threatening.

To prevent cirrhosis,

  • See your doctor for treatment of your liver disease. Many of the causes of cirrhosis are treatable. Early treatment may prevent cirrhosis.
  • Try to keep your weight in the normal range. Being overweight can make several liver diseases worse.
  • Do not drink any alcohol. Alcohol can harm liver cells. Drinking large amounts of alcohol over many years is one of the major causes of cirrhosis.
  • Say no to illegal substances. Illegal drugs can increase your chances of getting hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
  • See your doctor if you have hepatitis. Treatments for hepatitis B, C, and D are available. If you are on treatment, carefully follow your treatment directions.
  • Medication. If you have autoimmune hepatitis, take your medicines and have regular checkups as recommended by your doctor or a liver specialist.

Most common causes of cirrhosis are:

  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Some drugs, medicines, and harmful chemicals
  • Infections
  • Chronic hepatitis B, C, or D—viral infections that attack the liver
  • Autoimmune hepatitis, which causes the body’s immune system to destroy liver cells
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which is often caused by obesity
  • Diseases that damage or destroy bile ducts—tubes that carry bile from the liver

Some inherited diseases—diseases that are passed from parent to child—can cause cirrhosis:

  • Hemochromatosis, a disease that causes iron to collect in the liver
  • Wilson disease, a condition that causes copper to build up in the liver
  • Porphyria, a disorder that affects the skin, bone marrow, and liver

Many people with cirrhosis have no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. However, as the disease progresses, a person may experience the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue, or feeling tired
  • Weakness
  • Itching
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Bloating of the abdomen from ascites—a buildup of fluid in the abdomen
  • Edema—swelling due to a buildup of fluid—in the feet, ankles, or legs
  • spiderlike blood vessels, called spider angiomas, on the skin
  • Jaundice, a condition that causes the skin and whites of the eyes to turn yellow

A health care provider usually diagnoses cirrhosis based on the presence of conditions that increase its likelihood, such as heavy alcohol use or obesity, and symptoms. A health care provider may test for cirrhosis based on the presence of these conditions alone because many people do not have symptoms in the early stages of the disease. A health care provider may confirm the diagnosis with a medical and family history, a physical exam, a blood test, imaging tests or a liver biopsy.

Once you have cirrhosis, nothing can make all the scar tissue go away. But treating the cause will keep cirrhosis from getting worse. For example, if cirrhosis is from heavy alcohol use, the treatment is to completely stop drinking alcohol. If cirrhosis is caused by hepatitis C, then the hepatitis C virus is treated with medicine. Your doctor will suggest treatment based on the cause of your cirrhosis and your symptoms. Being diagnosed early and carefully following a treatment plan can help many people with cirrhosis. In the late stages of cirrhosis, certain treatments may not be effective. In that case, your doctor will work with you to prevent or manage the problems that cirrhosis can cause.