Cirrhosis is a condition in which the liver does not function properly due to long-term damage. Typically, the disease comes on slowly over months or years. Early on, there are often no symptoms. Cirrhosis is a complication of liver disease which involves loss of liver cells and irreversible scarring of the liver.
In the early stages of cirrhosis, the liver continues to function. However, as cirrhosis gets worse and scar tissue replaces more healthy tissue, the liver will begin to fail. Chronic liver failure, which is also called end-stage liver disease, progresses over months, years, or even decades. With end-stage liver disease, the liver can no longer perform important functions or effectively replace damaged cells.
Cause of Cirrhosis
Chronic Hepatitis C
- Alcohol-related liver disease. Research suggests that drinking two or fewer drinks a day for women and three or fewer drinks a day for men may not injure the liver.3 Drinking more than these amounts leads to fat and inflammation in the liver, which over 10 to 12 years can lead to alcoholic cirrhosis.4
- Hepatitis C. is a common cause of cirrhosis in Western Europe, North America, and many other parts of the world. Cirrhosis can also be caused by hepatitis B and D.
There are several known risk factors for developing cirrhosis. The most common risk factors are:
- Hemochromatosis– iron accumulates in the liver and other parts of the body.
- Wilson’s disease – copper accumulates in the liver and other parts of the body.
- Budd-Chiari syndrome
- There is thrombosis (blood clots) in the hepatic vein, the blood vessel that carries blood from the liver, leading to liver enlargement and the development of collateral vessels.
Excess alcohol use – regular consumption of more than 1-2 alcoholic beverage a day for women or 2-3 alcoholic beverages a day for men over a long period of time can lead to liver cirrhosis. Patients with other risk factors for liver disease may develop cirrhosis with even less regular alcohol use.
Infection with viral hepatitis – while not all patients who have chronic infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) or the hepatitis C virus (HCV) will develop cirrhosis, chronic viral hepatitis is one of the leading causes of liver disease in the world.
Obesity and Diabetes – obesity and diabetes are both risk factors for a form of liver injury known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Over time NASH can lead to significant liver injury and cirrhosis. Not all patients with obesity or diabetes will develop NASH.
Symptoms come on gradually as the liver loses its ability to work properly. They include:
- tiredness and weakness
- bruising easily
- itchy skin
- yellowing of skin and whites of eyes (jaundice)
- fluid buildup in abdomen (ascites)
- appetite loss
- nausea and vomiting
- swelling in legs (oedema)
- weight loss
- very black, dark or tarry stool (poo)
- confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech
- fever and shivering