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Understanding Cirrhosis

Front view of female outline showing digestive system and liver with cirrhosis.Cirrhosis is a chronic (lifelong) liver problem. It results from damaged and scarred liver tissue. Cirrhosis can’t be cured. But it can be treated. Your healthcare provider can tell you more.

The liver

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

When you have cirrhosis

When you have cirrhosis, your liver becomes damaged and scarred. The liver doesn’t function as it should. In some cases, cirrhosis can lead to liver failure. If it does, your healthcare provider will tell you whether you may need a liver transplant. You can slow down the progression of cirrhosis if you stop all alcohol use. Also, if you have metabolic problems like being overweight, diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol and triglycerides, you can also slow down the progression of cirrhosis by trying to improve those diseases. 

Causes of cirrhosis

Cirrhosis causes include the following:

  • Alcohol use

  • Viral liver infections, such as hepatitis

  • Chronic bile duct blockage

  • Certain inherited diseases that can result in too much copper or iron being stored in the liver

  • Certain medicines

  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

  • Autoimmune disease

Common signs and symptoms

Typical cirrhosis signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Fatigue, weakness, and lack of appetite

  • Vomiting with or without blood

  • Weight loss or weight gain

  • Yellowish skin and eyes (jaundice)

  • Itching

  • Swollen belly and legs

  • Intestinal bleeding

  • Easy bruising of the skin

  • Dilated veins in the esophagus and stomach

  • Poor mental function

Online Medical Reviewer: Image reviewed by StayWell medical illustration team.
Online Medical Reviewer: Kolbus, Karin, RN, DNP, COHN-S
Online Medical Reviewer: Lehrer, Jenifer, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2016
© 2000-2016 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.