Cirrhosis - Topic Overview
Cirrhosis (say "suh-ROH-sus")
is a very serious condition in which scarring damages the
liver. The liver is a large organ that is part of the
digestive system. It does a wide range of complex jobs that are vital for life.
For example, the liver:
- Makes many important substances, including
bile to help digest food and
clotting factors to help stop bleeding.
- Filters poisons from the blood.
- Breaks down
(metabolizes) alcohol and many drugs.
- Controls the amounts of sugar, protein, and fat in the
- Stores important vitamins and minerals, including
When a person has cirrhosis, scar tissue (fibrosis ) replaces healthy tissue. This scar tissue prevents the
liver from working as it should. For example, the liver may stop producing
enough clotting factors, which can lead to bleeding and bruising. Bile and
poisons may build up in the blood. Scarring can also cause high blood pressure
in the vein that carries blood from the intestines through the liver (portal hypertension). This can lead to severe bleeding
in the digestive tract and other serious problems.
be deadly. But early treatment can help stop damage to the liver.
Cirrhosis can have many
causes. Some of the main ones include:
Less common causes of cirrhosis include severe reactions
to medicines or long-term exposure to poisons, such as arsenic. Some people
have cirrhosis without an obvious cause.
You may not have symptoms
in the early stages of cirrhosis. As it gets worse, it can cause a number of
- Small red spots and tiny lines on the skin called spider
- Bruising easily.
- Heavy nosebleeds.
- Weight loss.
- Yellowing of the skin
- Swelling from fluid buildup in the legs (edema) and the
- Bleeding from enlarged veins in the digestive
The doctor will start
with a physical exam and questions about your symptoms and past health. If the
doctor suspects cirrhosis, you may have blood tests and imaging tests, such as
CT scan. These tests can help your doctor find out
what is causing the liver damage and how severe it is.
that you have cirrhosis, the doctor may do a
liver biopsy. This means that he or she will use a needle
to take a sample of liver tissue for testing.