Your liver is a football-sized organ on the right side of your belly, just below your ribs. It has many important jobs:
Cirrhosis is a disease in which scar tissue replaces normal liver tissue. The scar tissue grows when your liver is damaged repeatedly over time.
Severe cirrhosis that goes on for a long time can cause several problems:
Liver failure causes many serious complications:
Portal hypertension causes blood to back up in the veins connected to the liver. These veins may enlarge and twist. The veins at the lower end of the esophagus, in the stomach, or in the rectum may be affected. Enlarged, twisted veins are fragile and prone to bleeding, so you may:
The most common causes of cirrhosis include:
Drinking too much alcohol for a long time
Having chronic (long-lasting) hepatitis B or C
Many people with cirrhosis don’t have any symptoms for years.
When you do get symptoms, they can include:
If your cirrhosis is caused by alcohol or a long-term liver disorder, you may also have:
Muscles wasting away
Swollen belly (from excess fluid)
Small, bright red spots on your skin with thin blood vessels around them that look like spider legs (spider angiomas)
Swollen salivary glands — the glands that make your saliva (spit)
Swollen breasts, shrunken testes, and less hair under arms (in men)
Your doctor will suspect you have cirrhosis if you drink too much or have hepatitis and have some of the symptoms listed above. To tell if you have cirrhosis, doctors will:
A liver biopsy (in which a small piece of the liver is removed to look at under a microscope) may be needed if the other tests aren't clear.
There is no cure for cirrhosis. The liver damage is permanent. Doctors will treat your symptoms. You can also help keep the cirrhosis from getting worse by doing the following:
Stop drinking alcohol, if you were drinking too much
If you have chronic hepatitis C, take medicine to treat it
Avoid medicines that stress the liver (such as acetaminophen)
Eat foods that are good for you
If you have portal hypertension and enlarged, twisted veins in your esophagus (the tube that connects your throat to your stomach), doctors may:
If those things don't work, your doctor may put a thin plastic tube in the veins of your liver to re-route the blood and lower the pressure. This is called a TIPS procedure.
If your liver is very bad and barely working, you may need a liver transplant (surgery to replace your bad liver with a healthy one). Because alcohol will damage your new liver too, doctors usually do a transplant only if you have stopped drinking.