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It’s important that people with cirrhosis eat a low fat, high protein balanced diet.

It’s important that people with cirrhosis eat a low fat, high protein balanced diet.
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Cirrhosis of the liver

3-minute read

The liver is a vital organ that performs many important functions. Cirrhosis is permanent scarring of the liver caused by a range of liver diseases and conditions, such as hepatitis and alcohol abuse. Although incurable, early diagnosis and treatment can stop or delay its progress, minimise damage and reduce complications.

What is cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis develops when the liver is permanently damaged and scar tissue replaces healthy tissue.

Cirrhosis develops over many years, eventually preventing the liver from functioning properly.

If cirrhosis becomes so serious it causes the liver to fail, it can be life-threatening.

Illustration showing a comparison between a healthy liver and one with cirrhosis.
Illustration showing a comparison between a healthy liver and one with cirrhosis.

What causes cirrhosis?

While anything that damages the liver can cause cirrhosis, the most common causes are:

Other causes include autoimmune liver disease and inherited liver diseases (such as haemochromatosis, a condition where iron builds up in the liver).

Cirrhosis symptoms

Symptoms come on gradually as the liver loses its ability to work properly. They include:

  • tiredness and weakness
  • bruising and bleeding easily
  • itchy skin
  • yellowing of skin and whites of eyes (jaundice)
  • fluid buildup in abdomen (ascites)
  • appetite loss
  • nausea and vomiting
  • swelling in legs (oedema)
  • weight loss
  • very black, dark or tarry stool (poo)
  • confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech
  • fever and shivering
  • red palms of the hands
  • spider-like blood vessels on skin
  • breast enlargement in men

Cirrhosis treatment

Cirrhosis has no cure. However, it is possible to manage the symptoms and any complications, and slow its progression.

Your doctor may recommend:

Very advanced cirrhosis causes the liver to fail. In this case, a liver transplant is the only treatment option.

If you have liver cirrhosis, it’s important to avoid drinking alcohol to prevent further liver damage. Cut down on salt and make sure you eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as lean protein. It’s a good idea to eat protein filled meals and snacks often — every 3 or 4 hours. Make sure you avoid infections by washing your hands regularly and getting up to date on your vaccinations, and talk to your doctor or pharmacist before you use over the counter medications.

Cirrhosis prevention

To help prevent cirrhosis, limit alcohol consumption to no more than the daily recommend amounts, and immunise against hepatitis B infection. Avoid high-risk sexual behaviour (unprotected sex) and unsafe needle practices (i.e. no sharing) to prevent hepatitis infection.

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Last reviewed: May 2019

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