Key points about cirrhosis

  • Cirrhosis is a serious condition in which long-term damage to your liver causes scar tissue to replace healthy tissue.
  • Although the damage can’t be reversed, there are things you can do to prevent it in the first place.
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Cirrhosis is a type of liver disease. It happens when scarring builds up on your liver through continuous damage from:

The scar tissue replaces healthy cells so over time your liver is less able to:

  • regulate the fluid in your bloodstream and body
  • make enough chemicals for blood clotting
  • process waste chemicals, medicines, toxins and other chemicals, so these may build up in your body.

Your liver can eventually stop working. This can be fatal.

Alcohol is a major factor in preventable cirrhosis, with 5% to 15% of heavy drinkers developing it. Women who are heavy drinkers seem to be more prone than men to cirrhosis.

Image credit: 123rf

What are the causes of cirrhosis?

As discussed above, the main causes of cirrhosis are drinking too much alcohol or having hepatitis C or fatty liver disease. Less common causes include hepatitis B infection and inherited liver diseases, eg, haemochromatosis.


What are the symptoms of cirrhosis?

There aren't usually any symptoms in the early stages. However, as your liver starts to function less well, you may notice:

  • tiredness and weakness
  • fluid build-up in your legs and tummy
  • loss of appetite, feeling sick (nausea) and being sick (vomiting).
  • weight loss (although you may put on weight if you retain a lot of fluid)
  • tending to bleed and bruise more easily
  • yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes
  • itchy skin
  • changes to your personality and behaviour, such as confusion, forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating
  • vomiting blood or passing blood with your stools (poo).

See your healthcare provider if you have the symptoms. But you should also see them if you’re worried about how your drinking might be affecting your liver or if someone close to you has hepatitis. If your healthcare provider suspects you have cirrhosis, you will need to have some tests. These include:

  • liver function tests – blood tests to measure the levels of enzymes and proteins made by your liver
  • scans – to provide detailed images or to check how stiff your liver is, which indicates how much scarring there is
  • biopsy – rarely, if the cause of your liver problem is unknown, a fine needle may need to be inserted between your ribs to remove a small sample of liver cells to send to a laboratory to be examined.

There's no cure for cirrhosis. The aim of treatment is to ease your symptoms and stop your cirrhosis getting worse. It's important that you stop drinking alcohol.

Treatment may include:

  • a low-salt diet or tablets called diuretics to reduce the amount of fluid in your body
  • medicine to reduce blood pressure in the main vein that transports blood from your gut to your liver
  • medicine to prevent or treat any infection
  • creams to reduce itching.

If your liver has become seriously damaged, you may require more specialised treatment. If it can no longer function, you may be put on a waiting list for a liver transplant.

It's important you that follow all aspects of your treatment to prevent further damage to your liver. This includes not drinking alcohol, following a low-salt diet and losing weight if your healthcare provider has asked you to.

Other lifestyle changes that support your health with cirrhosis include:

  • regular exercise
  • good hygiene to reduce your risk of getting infections
  • a healthy diet, as malnutrition is common in people with cirrhosis.

For help to stop drinking alcohol, call the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797, visit Alcohol Drug Helpline(external link) or free text 8681 for confidential advice, all available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also contact Community Alcohol and Drug Services (CADS)(external link).

If you're finding it hard to cope with your condition, you can get counselling help. Ask your healthcare provider for a referral or find a counsellor(external link).

The best thing you can do to prevent cirrhosis is to not drink alcohol or drink within the recommended limits. It’s also important to take steps to prevent hepatitis C and hepatitis B infections.

Cirrhosis(external link) Patient Info, UK
Cirrhosis(external link) NHS Choices, UK


Liver cirrhosis – an information booklet for patients [PDF, 745 KB] Auckland DHB, NZ
Alcohol – the body and health effects(external link) Health Promotion Agency, NZ, 2012


  1. Cirrhosis(external link) NHS Choices, UK, 2020
  2. Cirrhosis(external link) Patient Info, UK, 2023
  3. Alcohol – the body and health effects – a brief overview(external link) Health Promotion Agency, 2012
  4. Cirrhosis of the liver(external link) British Liver Trust, UK
  5. Cirrhosis(external link) National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, US

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Dr Art Nahill, Consultant General Physician and Clinical Educator

Last reviewed: