Liver Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis of the liver is defined as scar tissue forming on the liver due to injury or disease. While a healthy liver helps the body fight off infections, cleanse the blood, and store energy, among other tasks, the livers of people with cirrhosis are unable to perform these tasks optimally, leading to a variety of symptoms.

Over time, scar tissue replaces the healthy tissue of the liver, preventing it from working as it should and eventually leading to a decline in liver function or liver failure.  

Alcohol abuse is a significant contributor to cirrhosis. Hepatitis B or C also can lead to cirrhosis, particularly in patients who develop chronic hepatitis B or C. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which also can lead to cirrhosis, affects about one-fourth of the population and about 70% of people with diabetes.  

Liver Cirrhosis Symptoms

Because cirrhosis scars the liver and impacts its overall function, it can lead to a wide variety of symptoms, varying in severity. Symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal or leg swelling
  • Confusion or difficulty thinking
  • Dark urine
  • Gallstones
  • Increased bleeding or bruising
  • Intense itching
  • Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin or eyes)  

Complications of cirrhosis include gallstones; kidney failure; liver failure; portal hypertension, or high blood pressure in the vein entering the liver; and sensitivity to medications.  

Symptoms and complications will worsen over time as the liver becomes more scarred. Early symptoms are usually milder and may include fatigue, diminished appetite, nausea and/or vomiting, and unexpected weight loss.  

Liver Cirrhosis Treatment

If your physician believes you may have liver cirrhosis, he or she will perform a comprehensive physical exam, in addition to blood tests, imaging scans, and/or a liver biopsy. The liver biopsy, in particular, allows your physician to see the extent of scarring on the liver tissue. 

If you're diagnosed with liver cirrhosis, your physician will treat the causes of your cirrhosis. While the condition cannot be cured, the symptoms usually can be managed. If alcohol abuse is a contributor and you still drink alcohol, you will be advised to stop drinking to lower the risk of additional liver damage.  

Alcoholic liver disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and chronic hepatitis B or C all are potential causes of liver cirrhosis. If those are factors in your case, your physician will prescribe treatment specific to eliminating or easing those conditions, which also will help limit the damage to your liver.

Depending on the individual causes of your liver cirrhosis, treatment may include recommended lifestyle changes, antiviral medications, or surgical procedures. Specific symptoms, such as portal hypertension, also will be treated individually.