Understanding Cirrhosis of the Liver

Cirrhosis is the final phase of chronic liver disease when the liver begins to function poorly due to scarring. The liver is a large organ that carries out essential functions such as detoxifying harmful substances in your body, purifying your blood, and manufacturing nutrients vital to your health. Chronic liver disease can be caused by a variety of conditions, including:

  • Long-term alcohol abuse
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Hemochromatosis (iron buildup in the body)
  • Autoimmune inflammation of the liver
  • Destruction of the bile ducts
  • Poorly formed bile ducts


Signs or symptoms of cirrhosis of the liver may not show up until damage to the liver is severe. This may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal indigestion or pain
  • Confusion or problems thinking
  • Bleeding easily
  • Bruising
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pale or clay-colored stools
  • Small, red spider-like blood vessels on the skin
  • Impotence or lack of sex drive
  • Vomiting blood or blood in your stools
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin due to the accumulation of bilirubin in the blood)
  • Weight loss

If you experience any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor.


Treating the underlying cause of liver disease may help minimize liver damage. For example:

  • If your cirrhosis is caused by alcohol use, you must stop drinking to prevent further damage. If stopping alcohol is difficult for you, ask your doctor to recommend a treatment program for alcohol addiction.
  • If you have hepatitis B or C, your doctor may prescribe medications to control damage to liver cells.

Other steps you can take to limit liver damage include:

  • Eating a low-salt diet. Excess salt can cause your body to retain fluids, causing swelling in your legs and abdomen.
  • Getting vaccinated for influenza, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and pneumococcal pneumonia (if recommended by your doctor). Cirrhosis makes it difficult for you to fight off infections. Getting any necessary vaccinations, avoiding people who are sick, and washing your hands frequently can help.
  • Having a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables. Cirrhosis can cause malnutrition, so to get the nutrients you need to stay healthy, eat a plant-based diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables; legumes; and poultry or fish; and avoid raw seafood.

Cirrhosis is irreversible. In some cases, even with treatment, liver function may worsen and it may be necessary to have a liver transplant in which the diseased liver is removed and replaced with a whole liver from a deceased donor or part of a liver from a living donor.