Cirrhosis can be divided into 2 stages, Compensated Cirrhosis and Decompensated Cirrhosis.
For most people, cirrhosis progresses (or gets worse) over time, but if the main cause of cirrhosis is treated (like quitting alcohol or getting rid of hepatitis C), it can help a lot.
Cirrhosis can shorten the length of a person’s life, but in many cases does not. The only cure for cirrhosis is liver transplant. It is important to understand that liver transplant is a major surgery with many potential risks, and is not recommended for everyone with cirrhosis.
No matter what stage your cirrhosis is at, your healthcare team will work with you to manage any symptoms or major complications that you have.
At first, you may have no symptoms at all. This is called compensated cirrhosis. People with compensated cirrhosis may live many years without being aware that their liver is scarred. This is because the pressure in the portal vein is not too high, and there are still enough healthy liver cells to keep up with the body’s needs. In other words, although the liver is scarred, it is still able to do its jobs.
But if the cirrhosis is not diagnosed and treated, the pressure in your portal vein gets higher. The few remaining healthy liver cells get overwhelmed. Then you may notice symptoms like:
- low energy
- poor appetite
- weight and muscle loss
- depressed mood
- loss of sexual function
As cirrhosis progresses even more, you can develop major complications. These can be related to portal hypertension or because the liver can’t do its factory jobs as well as it did before.
The most common major complications are:
- fluid build-up in your abdomen (called ascites) or chest (called pleural effusion)
- bleeding from the swollen veins in your esophagus (called variceal bleeding), and
- confusion (called hepatic encephalopathy)
When you have developed any of these major complications, it’s called decompensated cirrhosis.
Having decompensated cirrhosis is a sign that you’ll need to work closely with your healthcare team to manage your symptoms and complications. Your healthcare team may suggest you be assessed for a liver transplant.
The information on this page was adapted (with permission) from the references below, by the Cirrhosis Care Alberta project team (physicians, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, registered dietitians, physiotherapists, pharmacists, and patient advisors).
This information is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare team. They know your medical situation best. Always follow your healthcare team’s advice.