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Cirrhosis and liver disease


Cirrhosis (suh-ROH-suhss) is scarring of the liver. Scar tissue forms because of injury or diseases you have had for a long time. Scar tissue cannot do what healthy liver tissue does. This includes changing food into energy and cleaning the blood.

People with cirrhosis may have no symptoms in the early stages. As cirrhosis progresses you may

  • Feel tired or weak
  • Lose your appetite
  • Feel sick to your stomach
  • Lose weight

If too much scarring happens, your liver will stop working, and you will need a liver transplant. Cirrhosis is a leading cause of death in American Indian and Alaska Natives. Among this population, the most common cause is drinking too much alcohol. About 5 percent of people with cirrhosis also get liver cancer.

Once you have cirrhosis, nothing can make the scar tissue go away completely. However, treating the cause will keep cirrhosis from getting worse. For instance, if cirrhosis is caused by alcohol use, the treatment is to stop drinking completely. You also can take steps to keep liver disease from progressing to cirrhosis:

  • Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol can harm liver cells, and chronic alcohol use is one of the major causes of cirrhosis.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can make several liver diseases worse.
  • Eat low-fat, well-balanced meals.
  • Make physical activity a habit. Health benefits are gained by doing the following each week:
    • Aerobic activity that includes:
      • 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or
      • 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or
      • A combination of moderate and vigorous activity

      and

    • Muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days of the week
  • Stay away from illegal (street) drugs, which can increase your chances of getting some types of hepatitis.
  • Follow the treatment plan advised by your doctor.

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Content last updated: May 18, 2010.

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