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Cirrhosis is a very serious condition in which scarring damages the liver. This scar tissue prevents the liver from working as it should. That can cause problems with blood clotting, which can lead to bleeding and bruising. Cirrhosis can also cause fluid buildup in the belly, jaundice, and severe bleeding in the digestive tract.
The liver is a large organ in the right upper part of the abdomen. It performs a range of complex and important functions that affect all body systems. Some of the specific functions of the liver include:
Cirrhosis can have many causes. Long-term, heavy use of alcohol can cause cirrhosis. So can chronic viral hepatitis. Other causes include autoimmune diseases, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), blocked bile ducts in the liver, and certain diseases.
You may not have symptoms in the early stages of cirrhosis. But as it gets worse, symptoms may include fatigue, yellowing of the skin (jaundice), small red spots and tiny lines on the skin, bruising easily, weight loss, itching, belly pain, and bleeding in the digestive tract.
The doctor will examine you and ask questions about your symptoms and past health. If the doctor thinks that you might have cirrhosis, you may have blood tests and imaging tests, such as an ultrasound or a CT scan. To confirm that you have cirrhosis, the doctor may do a liver biopsy.
Treatment may include medicines, surgery, or lifestyle changes. Treatment can't cure cirrhosis. But it can sometimes prevent or delay more liver damage. To limit the damage to your liver and help control symptoms, you can make lifestyle changes. For example, don't drink alcohol. Limit sodium and fat. And avoid medicines that can harm your liver.
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Cirrhosis can have many causes. Some of the main ones include:
Less common causes include severe reactions to medicines. Cirrhosis may also be caused by long-term exposure to poisons, such as arsenic. Some people have it without a clear cause.
You may not have symptoms in the early stages of cirrhosis. But as it gets worse, it can cause a number of symptoms. These include:
Scar tissue from cirrhosis may block the proper flow of blood from the intestines through the liver. The scarring can lead to increased pressure in the veins that supply this area. This is called portal hypertension. It can lead to other health complications.
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Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask about your medical history to see if you have symptoms of liver disease and to help find out possible causes of liver damage.
If your doctor thinks that you might have cirrhosis, you may have blood and imaging tests. You also may have a liver biopsy. This test can show for sure if you have cirrhosis.
Measuring the levels of certain chemicals produced by the liver can show how well your liver is working. Blood tests may be used to measure:
You may have blood tests to check your liver enzymes. These can help show if you've had liver inflammation for a long time. These blood tests include:
Some people with cirrhosis have normal liver enzymes.
Imaging tests can check for tumours and blocked bile ducts. They also can be used to look at the size of the liver and to see how blood flows through the liver. These tests include:
Treatment may include medicines, lifestyle changes, and regular doctor visits. In some cases, you may need surgery to treat complications from cirrhosis. Your treatment depends on the cause of your cirrhosis and what other problems it is causing.
Treatment can't cure cirrhosis. But it can sometimes prevent or delay more liver damage.
Your doctor will recommend some lifestyle changes to help prevent more liver damage.
Cirrhosis can cause other problems (complications) that may need treatment. They include:
Receiving a liver from an organ donor (liver transplant) is the only treatment that will restore normal liver function and cure portal hypertension. A liver transplant is usually an option only when liver damage is severe and threatening your life.
Before your condition becomes severe, you may want to talk to your doctor about whether you'll be a good candidate for a liver transplant if your disease gets worse.
Talk to your doctor about what steps you can take now to improve your overall health. That way you can increase your chances of being considered a good candidate.
Lifestyle changes may reduce symptoms caused by complications of cirrhosis. These changes may also help to slow new liver damage.
If you have cirrhosis, it's important that you stop drinking alcohol completely, even if alcohol wasn't the cause of the cirrhosis. If you don't stop, liver damage may quickly get worse.
You may need to limit the amount of salt you eat.
If your body is retaining fluid, you'll need to reduce your sodium intake. You do this by reducing the amount of salt in your diet. People with liver damage tend to retain sodium. This can make fluid build up in your belly (ascites).
Your doctor may also talk to you about changing your diet. Certain foods may make symptoms worse.
Some medicines should be used carefully or not taken at all if you have cirrhosis. For example, acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) can speed up liver damage. Aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) increase the risk of variceal bleeding if you have enlarged veins (varices) in the digestive tract. NSAIDs can also raise your risk for ascites. They include ibuprofen (such as Motrin or Advil) and naproxen (Aleve). Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about what medicines are safe for you.
Certain prescription medicines used to treat other conditions may be harmful if you have cirrhosis. Make sure that your doctor knows all the medicines you take (including all non-prescription medicines and natural health products).
Taking other steps to improve your overall health may help you cope with the symptoms of cirrhosis.
In general, you should avoid most natural health products. They may make liver disease worse.
Talk to your doctor about whether you should try any alternative treatment.
Current as of: March 22, 2023
Author: Healthwise StaffClinical Review Board: Adam Husney MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineW. Thomas London MD - Hepatology
Current as of: March 22, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & W. Thomas London MD - Hepatology
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