Cirrhosis - Symptoms 

Symptoms of cirrhosis 

There are usually few symptoms during the early stages of cirrhosis. Noticeable problems  tend to develop as the liver becomes more damaged.

In early stage cirrhosis, the liver is able to function properly despite damage. As cirrhosis progresses, symptoms tend to develop when functions of the liver are affected.

Symptoms of cirrhosis can include:

  • tiredness and weakness
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss and muscle wasting
  • feeling sick (nausea) and vomiting
  • tenderness or pain around the liver area
  • tiny red lines (blood capillaries) on the skin above waist level
  • very itchy skin
  • yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • a tendency to bleed and bruise more easily, such as frequent nosebleeds or bleeding gums
  • hair loss 
  • fever and shivering attacks
  • swelling in the legs, ankles and feet due to a build-up of fluid (oedema)
  • swelling in your abdomen (tummy), due to a build-up of fluid known as ascites - severe cases can make you look heavily pregnant

You may also notice changes in your personality, problems sleeping (insomnia), memory loss, confusion and difficulty concentrating. This is known as encephalopathy and occurs when toxins affect your brain because your liver is unable to remove them from your body.

Late-stage symptoms

In the later stages of cirrhosis, you may vomit blood or have tarry, black stools. This is because blood can't flow through the liver properly, which causes an increase in blood pressure in the vein that carries blood from the gut to the liver (portal vein).

The increase in blood pressure forces blood through smaller, fragile vessels that line your stomach and gullet (varices). These can burst under high blood pressure, leading to internal bleeding, which is visible in vomit and/or stools.

Over time, the toxins that would normally be removed from the body by a healthy liver can cause multiple organ failure, followed by death.

When to seek medical help

You should see your GP if you have persistent signs and symptoms of cirrhosis.

You should seek immediate medical help if you develop the following symptoms, especially if you have been previously diagnosed with cirrhosis:

  • fever and shivering attacks
  • shortness of breath
  • vomiting blood
  • very dark or black tarry stools
  • periods of mental confusion or drowsiness

Page last reviewed: 23/05/2013

Next review due: 23/05/2015

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