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Cirrhosis of the liver is an extremely serious, life-threatening illness that involves progressive breakdown of liver function leading to hepatic failure and death. It is frequently associated with severe alcohol abuse, but may have other causes as well, including fatty liver, obesity, hepatitis, and diabetes. The disease proceeds through four clearly defined stages each with its own prognosis and treatment approach.

Stage 1

In the initial stage of cirrhosis of the liver, very few symptoms are encountered. Symptoms that can occur include dry mouth, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), fatigue, and swelling of the upper abdomen. However, it is also possible to have early-stage cirrhosis and have no external symptoms at all. A blood test can reveal
elevated liver enzymes which is an early indicator of liver damage. Liver damage can also be revealed from medical scanning such as an ultrasound. A liver biopsy is recommended to diagnose the disease from these symptoms, especially in patients considered at risk. The liver itself exhibits abnormal growth of tissues and inflammation, which will be revealed in medical scanning or from the biopsy.

Stage 2

In the second stage of cirrhosis of the liver, the abnormal tissue growth that occurred in the first stage begins to harden into rigid lengths of connective tissue. This is also known as liver fibrosis. Fibrosis of the liver can occur in other contexts than cirrhosis, but it is also a critical point of advancement for cirrhosis. The fibrotic condition can spread beyond the liver as well, affecting nearby veins and ducts. Continued below....

Stage 3

In the third stage of cirrhosis, the fibrous bands of connective tissue that formed in the second stage begin to merge together, causing affected areas of the liver to become enlarged. Liver functions can begin to be seriously disrupted in this stage, affecting the body's ability to digest fats and also to process fat-soluble vitamins. The symptoms that can appear in stage 1 are more likely to occur at this point and also likely to be more severe.

Stage 4

Stage 4 of cirrhosis of the liver is considered terminal. Hepatic function is severely impaired, and a liver transplant is mandatory for survival.


As long as the disease has not progressed to the terminal fourth stage, and especially when it is in its early stages, treatment of cirrhosis consists of attempting to arrest the progress of the disease. This involves identifying the causes and treating those causes.

A common cause of liver cirrhosis is alcohol abuse. If alcohol-associated cirrhosis is identified, the obvious recommended treatment is for the patient to cease drinking alcohol. Cirrhosis can also occur as a complication of diabetes, obesity, hepatitis, and a few other causes.

If non-alcoholic cirrhosis is diagnosed (meaning essentially that cirrhosis is diagnosed but the patient is not an alcohol abuser), treatment may consist of weight loss, dietary modification, treatment of diabetes, treatment of hepatitis, etc.

There is, unfortunately, no way to reverse the damage that cirrhosis does to the liver. If the progression of the disease can be arrested in an early stage, sufficient hepatic function can be retained to live a normal life. Failing that, the only treatment possible is a liver transplant with all of the complications that involves.

The best approach to cirrhosis and to liver disease in general is prevention and early diagnosis. Severe alcohol abuse has many negative impacts on health and should be arrested if it is a problem. The same is true of obesity and indeed of all of the causes of cirrhosis.

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