Liver Cirrhosis: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment


Liver Cirrhosis: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Stages, Pathophysiology, and Diet

Liver cirrhosis represents a severe medical condition characterized by long-term damage to the liver, leading to scar tissue that replaces healthy liver tissue. This article provides a comprehensive overview of liver cirrhosis, discussing its symptoms, causes, treatment options, stages, pathophysiology, and dietary recommendations.

Liver Cirrhosis Pathophysiology

The pathophysiology of liver cirrhosis involves the progressive development of fibrosis, a process where excessive connective tissue builds up in the liver. This occurs after continuous, chronic damage to the liver, disrupting its normal structure and function. The scar tissue that forms blocks the flow of blood through the liver and impairs its ability to process nutrients, hormones, drugs, and toxins. This disruption also affects the production of proteins and other substances produced by the liver.

Cirrhosis Causes

Here are some of the most common causes of liver cirrhosis:

1. Chronic Alcohol Abuse

Excessive alcohol consumption is a leading cause of liver cirrhosis. Alcohol can damage liver cells, leading to inflammation and, eventually, scarring. The risk of developing cirrhosis increases with the amount and duration of alcohol consumption.

2. Chronic Viral Hepatitis

  • Hepatitis C: Historically, hepatitis C has been a major cause of cirrhosis in many countries, particularly before newer antiviral treatments became available.
  • Hepatitis B: This can also lead to cirrhosis, especially in individuals who are infected at birth or during early childhood.

3. Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) arises from the buildup of extra fat in liver cells that is not caused by alcohol. It’s often associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other disorders characterized by insulin resistance. NAFLD can progress to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a more severe form of the disease that includes inflammation and may progress to cirrhosis.

4. Autoimmune Hepatitis

Autoimmune hepatitis occurs when the body’s immune system attacks liver cells, causing ongoing inflammation that can lead to cirrhosis. It is more common in women than men.

5. Biliary Cirrhosis

  • Primary Biliary Cholangitis (PBC): This is a chronic disease in which the bile ducts in the liver are slowly destroyed. As bile builds up, it damages liver tissue, leading to cirrhosis.
  • Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC): This involves inflammation and scarring of the bile ducts inside and outside the liver. Over time, the scarring can lead to cirrhosis.

6. Inherited Diseases

  • Wilson’s Disease: A rare inherited disorder where excess copper builds up in the body, causing damage to the liver and other organs.
  • Hemochromatosis: An inherited condition that causes the body to absorb too much iron from the diet. The excess iron is deposited in various organs, including the liver, where it can cause oxidative damage leading to cirrhosis.

7. Drugs, Toxins, and Infections

Certain medications, toxic substances (such as some industrial chemicals), and chronic infections can lead to liver damage and cirrhosis.

8. Cryptogenic Cirrhosis

In some cases, cirrhosis develops in patients where no clear cause can be identified with standard clinical and laboratory evaluations, and it is termed cryptogenic cirrhosis. As diagnostic techniques improve, fewer cases are classified as cryptogenic, with many being reclassified as related to NAFLD and NASH.

9. Cardiac Cirrhosis

This occurs due to chronic right-sided heart failure, which leads to prolonged congestion of the liver with blood, causing liver injury and eventually cirrhosis.

Liver Cirrhosis Symptoms

The symptoms of liver cirrhosis often remain unnoticed until significant damage has occurred. Early signs may include fatigue and minor abdominal discomfort. As the disease progresses, more severe symptoms can appear, such as jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), severe itching, fluid accumulation in the abdomen (ascites), swelling in the legs, bruising easily, and gastrointestinal bleeding. Cognitive issues like confusion or difficulty thinking, known as hepatic encephalopathy, can also occur in advanced stages.

Liver Cirrhosis Stages

The progression of liver cirrhosis is commonly categorized into four stages:

  • Stage 1: Characterized by mild fibrosis without symptoms.
  • Stage 2: Increased fibrosis and the beginning of blood flow obstruction, but still may not present noticeable symptoms.
  • Stage 3: Advanced fibrosis and the formation of regenerative nodules in the liver.
  • Stage 4: This final stage involves severe scarring and significant liver dysfunction, often accompanied by symptoms affecting overall health and requiring management strategies for multiple complications.

Liver Cirrhosis Treatment

Treatment for liver cirrhosis aims to halt its progression, manage symptoms, and address the underlying cause. In cases related to alcohol, cessation is critical. For viral hepatitis, antiviral drugs can be effective. Managing contributing factors such as obesity, diabetes, or autoimmune diseases is also crucial. Advanced stages might require treatments such as liver transplantation.

Medical interventions may include medications to control symptoms like ascites and hepatic encephalopathy. Regular monitoring and imaging tests are vital to managing the disease effectively.

Researchers at University College London (UCL) have recently developed an innovative approach to combat liver disease through the use of carbon beads that influence the gut microbiome. Published in the journal Gut, the study illustrates the effectiveness of these beads in reducing harmful bacteria and inflammation in animal models, subsequently slowing the progression of liver cirrhosis—a condition affecting millions globally. The carbon beads, termed CARBALIVE, are designed to adsorb toxins produced by ‘bad’ bacteria, thus fostering a healthier environment for ‘good’ bacteria to thrive. This not only prevents further damage to the liver but also shows potential in improving kidney and brain functions in rats and mice. Preliminary tests on cirrhosis patients indicated that the beads are safe and have minimal side effects, setting the stage for broader clinical trials to validate their efficacy in humans.

With the positive outcomes observed in animal models and initial human tests, there is optimism about the potential broader application of CARBALIVE beads not only for liver disease but also for other conditions influenced by gut health, such as irritable bowel syndrome.

Liver Cirrhosis Diet

Diet plays a crucial role in managing liver cirrhosis. A well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is recommended. It is important to limit salt intake to help control water retention and swelling. Protein intake should be adequate but monitored, as excessive protein can lead to complications in more advanced stages. Avoiding alcohol is imperative to prevent further liver damage.


Liver cirrhosis is a serious condition that necessitates comprehensive care and management. Dr. Christos Zavos, a board-certified gastroenterologist and hepatologist in Thessaloniki, Greece, emphasizes the importance of early diagnosis and tailored treatment strategies. For personalized advice and management of liver cirrhosis, individuals are encouraged to contact Dr. Zavos through the Contact Form on, by calling at phone numbers: (+30)-6976596988 and (+30)-2311283833, or by sending an email at Engaging with a specialist like Dr. Zavos can significantly improve treatment outcomes and quality of life for those affected by liver cirrhosis.


  1. Liu J, MacNaughtan J, Kerbert AJC, et al. Clinical, experimental and pathophysiological effects of Yaq-001: a non-absorbab le, gut-restricted adsorbent in models and patients with cirrhosis. Gut 2024:gutjnl-2023-330699.
Last update: 22 April 2024, 10:22


Gastroenterologist - Hepatologist, Thessaloniki

PhD at Medical School, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

PGDip at Universitair Medisch Centrum Utrecht, The Netherlands

Ex President, Hellenic H. pylori & Microbiota Study Group