Cirrhosis of the Liver

Cirrhosis is the development of scar tissue in the liver caused by any form of chronic liver disease.

Symptoms of cirrhosis

Typically, people have few symptoms in the early stages of cirrhosis. However, as more healthy cells are replaced by scar tissue, symptoms may develop, such as

  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • weakness
  • easy bruising
  • jaundice
  • accumulation of fluid in the abdomen and legs

Diagnosis of Cirrhosis

Evidence of cirrhosis typically may be detected by a physical exam, but more often blood tests or imaging studies of the liver are required to determine if chronic liver disease has progressed to cirrhosis. A liver biopsy—where a small sample of liver tissue is removed for laboratory analysis—also may be performed to evaluate how badly the liver is damaged and whether cancer has developed.

Treatment of Cirrhosis

To prevent cirrhosis development, treatment is directed toward the underlying cause (viruses, alcohol, or autoimmune hepatitis). Once scar tissue develops in the liver, it is irreversible. Therapy is then directed at controlling the complications of the scarred liver.

Fluid accumulation in the abdomen or legs is treated with a low-salt diet and diuretics. Large blood vessels (varices) that can rupture easily and bleed profusely may form around the stomach and esophagus. These varices may require certain medications (beta-blockers) or endoscopic treatment. If these complications fail to respond to medication, a liver transplant may be necessary.

Publication Review By: H. Franklin Herlong, M.D.

Published: 25 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 13 Nov 2014