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Cirrhosis

What is cirrhosis of the liver?

Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver that is caused by repeated damage to the liver over an extended period of time. It is the final stage of long-term liver disease and can eventually cause liver failure.

What causes cirrhosis of the liver?

Liver cirrhosis can be caused by any damage to the liver. This includes drinking excessive amounts of alcohol for many years or long-term hepatitis, particularly hepatitis C.

A severe build-up of fat in the liver can also cause cirrhosis. This is known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, a serious type of non-alcoholic liver disease.

What are the symptoms of cirrhosis of the liver?

If you have liver cirrhosis, you may not notice any symptoms. However, as the liver damage progresses, you may:

  • feel very weak and tired
  • feel nauseous
  • have a poor appetite
  • lose your sex drive

Additional symptoms can develop in the later stages of cirrhosis. These may include:

  • yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • vomiting blood
  • itchy skin
  • easily bleeding or bruising
  • swelling in your legs or tummy
  • very dark or black coloured stools

Around a third of people with liver cirrhosis never develop symptoms.

Can cirrhosis of the liver cause a rash?

Cirrhosis can cause a reddish purple rash made up of tiny dots or blotches. This is caused by bleeding from small blood vessels in the skin.

What are the four stages of cirrhosis of the liver?

Cirrhosis of the liver is the final stage of all types of long-term liver disease.

Four stages exist, based on the symptoms you have, and each carries a different likelihood of surviving the disease. Around 1% of those in stage one die each year. This rises to 4% in stage two, 20% in stage three, and 57% in stage four.

Is cirrhosis of the liver curable?

Strictly speaking, cirrhosis of the liver can’t be cured. However, when cirrhosis becomes so advanced that the liver stops working, you may be able to have a liver transplant. This is the only real cure for liver cirrhosis.

Although cirrhosis can’t be reversed, you can slow down its progression and manage the symptoms of the disease.

Lifestyle changes, such as avoiding alcohol, exercising regularly and losing weight if you are overweight can help.

What should I eat for liver cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis can increase your risk of becoming malnourished. To prevent this, eat a balanced diet full of different fruits and vegetables. Stick to lean proteins like poultry, fish or legumes.

Liver damage can make it harder for your body to store substances necessary for short-term energy. This means you may need extra calories and protein from your diet. You can do this by having a healthy snack between meals or eating three or four small meals a day.

Reducing your salt intake can help to improve cirrhosis symptoms like fluid retention in the tummy and legs. You can replace salt with herbs when you are cooking at home, and avoid eating pre-prepared foods that have a high sodium content.

How long can you live with cirrhosis of the liver?

Liver cirrhosis is a life-threatening condition, but how long you can expect to live often depends on many factors, including:

  • the underlying cause
  • severity of the condition
  • if you have other illnesses
  • if you have any complications

If there is minimal scarring and you receive treatment early on, you may live a fairly healthy life for many years before the disease starts to cause serious problems.

The rate of survival is lower if the damage is very severe or if cirrhosis is caused by alcohol and you continue to drink. This is why it is important to see a doctor early if you think you have liver cirrhosis.

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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.