Definition & Facts for Cirrhosis

What is cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis is a condition in which your liver is scarred and permanently damaged. Scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue and prevents your liver from working normally. Scar tissue also partly blocks the flow of blood through your liver. As cirrhosis gets worse, your liver begins to fail.

Many people are not aware that they have cirrhosis, since they may not have signs or symptoms until their liver is badly damaged.

A healthy liver and a liver with cirrhosis.
A healthy liver (left) and liver with cirrhosis (right).

How common is cirrhosis?

Researchers estimate that about 1 in 400 adults in the United States has cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is more common in adults ages 45 to 54. About 1 in 200 adults ages 45 to 54 in the United States has cirrhosis. Researchers believe the actual numbers may be higher because many people with cirrhosis are not diagnosed.1

Who is more likely to get cirrhosis?

People are more likely to get cirrhosis if they have certain health conditions. People are also more likely to get cirrhosis if they1

What are the complications of cirrhosis?

As the liver fails, complications may develop. In some people, complications may be the first sign of the disease. Complications of cirrhosis may include the following.

Portal hypertension

Portal hypertension is the most common serious complication of cirrhosis.2 Portal hypertension is a condition that occurs when scar tissue partly blocks and slows the normal flow of blood through your liver, which causes high blood pressure in the portal vein. Portal hypertension and its treatments may lead to other complications, including

  • enlarged veins—called varices—in your esophagus, stomach, or intestines, which can lead to internal bleeding if the veins burst
  • swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet, called edema
  • buildup of fluid in your abdomen—called ascites—which can lead to a serious infection in the space that surrounds your liver and intestines
  • confusion or difficulties thinking caused by the buildup of toxins in your brain, called hepatic encephalopathy

Infections

Cirrhosis increases your chance of getting bacterial infections, such as urinary tract infections and pneumonia.

Liver cancer

Cirrhosis increases your chance of getting liver cancer.3 Most people who develop liver cancer already have cirrhosis.4

Liver failure

Cirrhosis may eventually lead to liver failure. With liver failure, your liver is badly damaged and stops working. Liver failure is also called end-stage liver disease. This may require a liver transplant.

Other complications

Other complications of cirrhosis may include

  • bone diseases, such as osteoporosis
  • gallstones
  • problems with the bile ducts—the tubes that carry bile out of the liver
  • malabsorption and malnutrition
  • bruising and bleeding easily
  • sensitivity to medicines
  • insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
  • References

March 2018
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.