About This Condition
Cirrhosis is a condition of severe damage to the liver that impairs its ability to function normally.
In the United States, the most common cause of liver cirrhosis is chronic alcoholism. Liver cirrhosis may also result from chronic viral infection of the liver (hepatitis types B, C, and D) and a number of inherited diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, hemochromatosis, and Wilson’s disease. If severe, liver cirrhosis may lead to liver failure and death. In the Western world, liver cirrhosis is the third leading cause of death in people from ages 45 to 65 (after cardiovascular disease and cancer).1 Liver cirrhosis may also cause a dangerous brain abnormality called portal-systemic encephalopathy (PSE), which may lead to coma. Another form of cirrhosis, primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), damages the bile ducts in the liver, and occurs primarily in women over 35 years of age. The cause of PBC is not known.
Many people with cirrhosis have no symptoms for years. Others may have weakness, loss of appetite, malaise, and weight loss. With blocked bile flow, it is common for people with cirrhosis to have jaundice, itching, and fatty yellow skin nodules. Later in the disease, there may be massive bleeding inside the throat, brain abnormalities due to accumulation of ammonia in the blood, liver failure, and death.
Treatment is supportive, since cure is unlikely. Healthcare providers might recommend withdrawal of alcohol and other toxic agents, correction of nutritional deficiencies, and treatment of complications as they arise. A number of experimental drugs are being investigated for reversal of liver damage, but few have proven effective. Liver transplantation for patients with advanced disease has dramatically increased the life expectancy associated with cirrhosis.