Understanding Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is a lifelong (chronic) liver problem. It results from damaged and scarred liver tissue. Cirrhosis can’t be cured. But it can be treated.

Front view of female outline showing digestive system and liver with cirrhosis.

The liver

The liver is a large organ in the upper right part of the belly. A healthy liver breaks down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. It makes a digestive fluid called bile and removes toxins from the blood. The liver is also part of the blood-clotting process.

Causes of cirrhosis

The causes of cirrhosis may include:

  • Alcohol use

  • Viral liver infections, such as hepatitis B and C

  • Chronic bile duct blockage

  • Some inherited diseases that cause too much copper or iron to be stored in the liver

  • Some medicines

  • Autoimmune disease

Another cause is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. This is very common. It usually happens in people who have any of these:

  • Excess weight
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol or triglycerides
  • Other metabolic problems

Common signs and symptoms

Common symptoms of cirrhosis include:

  • Severe tiredness (fatigue)

  • Weakness

  • Low appetite

  • Upset stomach (nausea) and vomiting, with or without blood

  • Weight loss or weight gain

  • Yellowish skin and eyes (jaundice)

  • Itching

  • Swollen belly and legs

  • Mild pain in the right upper side of your belly
  • Intestinal bleeding

  • Easy bruising of the skin

  • Dilated veins in the esophagus and stomach

  • Poor mental function

When you have cirrhosis

When you have cirrhosis, your liver gets damaged and scarred. The liver doesn’t work as it should. In some cases, cirrhosis can lead to liver failure. If it does, you may need a liver transplant. Cirrhosis puts you at higher risk for liver cancer. Other tests are needed to look for complications of cirrhosis and check for liver cancer. Make sure to keep all follow-up appointments with your provider.

You can slow down cirrhosis if you stop all alcohol use. You can also slow it down if you treat other health problems. This includes: 

  • Losing excess weight
  • Controlling blood sugar if you have diabetes
  • Treating high blood pressure
  • Treating high cholesterol and triglycerides