Cirrhosis is a disease in which the liver becomes permanently damaged and the normal structure of the liver is changed. Healthy liver cells are replaced by scarred tissue. The liver is not able to do its normal functions, such as detoxifying harmful substances, purifying blood, and making vital nutrients. In addition, scarring slows down the normal flow of blood through the liver, causing blood to find alternate pathways. This may result in bleeding blood vessels known as gastric or
Cirrhosis of the Liver
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A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors include:
Alcohol abuseHepatitis infectionUse of drugs toxic to the liver
or gaining weight
Diabetes that is poorly controlled
too much iron
Cirrhosis often does not cause symptoms early in the disease process. Symptoms start when the liver begins to fail, as scar tissue replaces healthy cells. Symptom severity depends on the extent of liver damage.
Early symptoms include:
FatiguePoor appetiteAbdominal swelling, tenderness, and painNauseaWeight lossWeaknessEnlarged breasts in men
Later symptoms, some due to complications, include:
Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
Reddened palmsLoss of body hairShrunken testiclesEnlarged liverEnlarged spleenAppearance of thin, purplish-red, spidery looking blood vessels on the skin, especially around the navelDark urineWater retention and swelling in the legs and abdomenBleeding and bruisingVomiting bloodItchingMenstrual problemsAbdominal infectionsImpotenceForgetfulnessConfusionAgitationTremorsComaInability to fully process drugsEnlarged, twisted, thin-walled blood vessels called varices that bleed easily and sometimes catastrophically (usually located in the esophagus)Liver cancerOsteoporosisGallstonesArrhythmiasSleep disturbancesUlcersBreathing problemsInsulin resistance
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam.
Tests may include:
Blood tests—to assess how well the liver is working and determine a causeCT scan,
ultrasound, or liver/spleen scan—to identify changes in the liver
biopsy—analyzing a sample of liver tissue removed via a thin needle inserted through the abdomen and into the liver
Laparoscopy—looking at the liver via a thin tube with a lighted tip inserted through a small incision near the belly button
Other tests may include:
Inserting a catheter into the liver vein and measuring the pressure within that vein; rarely necessaryRemoving fluid from the abdomen and examining itOther tests to determine what caused the cirrhosis and what complications may occur
There is no cure for cirrhosis. The goals of treatment are to keep the condition from getting worse, including:
Control the causeTreat underlying medical conditionsPrevent additional damageTreat symptoms and complicationsLiver cancer screenings
Doctors prescribe drugs to:
Treat hepatitis and complications that ariseReduce the absorption of waste products and toxins in the digestive systemReduce the risk of a blood vessel breakingFight infectionsShed excess fluids
Liver transplant—may be done if:
Complications can no longer be controlled using medical therapyThe liver stops functioning
Endoscopy—This is used to tie off bleeding blood vessels (varices) or to inject drugs to cause clotting. A thin tool with a lighted tip is inserted down the throat to help the doctor see and access the varices, which are located in the esophagus.
Stop drinking alcohol completely.Do not take any medicines without your doctor's approval, including over-the-counter drugs.
balanced diet. Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as lean proteins, like beans and poultry.
If your liver disease is more advanced, you may need to limit protein intake, because your weakened liver will not be able to process it properly.You may need to limit salt in your diet, because it increases water retention.Take any vitamin supplements your doctor recommends.Put your feet and legs up to decrease swelling.
Due to increased risk of infections, doctors recommend:
Getting vaccines for
hepatitisAvoiding raw seafoodAvoiding people who are sick with communicable diseases, like the flu or common coldWashing your hands often
If you are diagnosed with cirrhosis, follow your doctor's
To decrease the risk of cirrhosis:
Drink alcohol in moderation. Moderate alcohol intake is no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.Get hepatitis vaccines.
to lower your chance of getting hepatitis B.
If you use IV drugs, do not share needles, which can spread hepatitis B, C, or D.Maintain a healthy weight.Follow your doctor's recommendations about blood tests when taking medications that may damage the liver.
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Last reviewed October 2012 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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