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Cirrhosis of the liver is the end result of progressive scarring - called fibrosis - over time. Scarring is the liver’s response to long-term inflammation brought on by a variety of diseases and conditions, including chronic hepatitis B or C infection, chronic alcohol abuse, autoimmune hepatitis, fatty liver disease and genetic disorders such as hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease.

The buildup of scar tissue causes the normally pliable liver to become stiff and inflexible. This condition can lead to many complications, including bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract, confusion (known as hepatic encephalopathy), swelling of the legs and abdomen (called edema and ascites), liver cancer and liver failure, resulting in the need for liver transplantation.

Cirrhosis Symptoms

Liver fibrosis typically progresses silently and unnoticed. When cirrhosis symptoms of cirrhosis do appear, they are an indication that your liver is struggling to do its job. Signs of liver damage may include:

  • bleeding from the GI tract
  • itchy skin
  • jaundice
  • swelling of legs and/or abdomen
  • confusion (hepatic encephalopathy)
  • loss of muscle mass
  • weakness
  • fatigue

Cirrhosis Treatment and Diagnosis

While liver cirrhosis is thought to be irreversible, its development can be slowed or even prevented with early diagnosis of its root cause and appropriate medical intervention. Our NorthShore liver disease specialists will first perform a physical exam, followed by a variety of blood and urine tests to help determine what disease or condition may be contributing to your liver disease. At that time, your physician may have you undergo a non-invasive FibroScan® exam to assess the extent of liver damage and to develop a personalized cirrhosis treatment plan. A liver biopsy is another diagnostic option that may be necessary in select cases.

While cirrhosis of the liver is rarely curable, it can be successfully managed when diagnosed early. In fact, recent studies indicate that cirrhosis can sometimes be partially reversed by appropriate treatment, a result that may spare you a liver transplant. Having cirrhosis increases the odds of developing primary liver cancer, known as hepatocellular cancer. Detected early, this highly fatal cancer can often be cured. Our hepatologists and gastrointestinal specialists monitor cirrhotic patients on a regular basis for any signs of hepatocellular cancer, using imaging and blood tests.

For More Information

For more information on cirrhosis symptoms and treatment or to schedule an appointment with one of our hepatologists, please call 847.657.1900.