Learn more about cirrhosis and liver transplant

Your liver is one of the most important organs in your body. It filters toxins from the body, and is responsible for breaking down fats and storing vitamins.

Damage to your liver can be dangerous and can lead to cirrhosis. But what is cirrhosis, and how does cirrhosis affect the body? Read on for more information.

UPMC has performed more liver transplants than any other transplant center in the nation. And through our UPMC Complex Care Connect™ program, we extend our expertise to hospitals across the country. Find out more at the UPMC Complex Care Connect™ website.

What Is Cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis of the liver develops when healthy liver tissue is damaged and replaced with scar tissue, or fibrosis. Fibrosis occurs due to increased pressure in the liver’s portal vein, the vein that supplies blood from the stomach, small intestines, and spleen.

When scar tissue replaces healthy tissue, your liver is unable to perform its normal functions.

Cirrhosis is caused by earlier forms of liver disease and damage resulting from any number of conditions. Hepatitis, which occurs when the body is infected by a virus, causes inflammation in the liver. Heavy alcohol use also can damage the liver. Metabolic dysfunction-associated steatotic liver disease is characterized by a buildup of fat in liver cells, causing inflammation. Primary biliary cirrhosis occurs when the bile ducts become blocked and inflamed.

Additionally, autoimmune diseases such as HIV and lupus and inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Wilson’s disease, and hemochromatosis can increase your risk of developing cirrhosis.

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How Does Cirrhosis Affect the Body?

In the early stages, symptoms of cirrhosis usually aren’t noticeable. As the disease progresses, however, you may start to experience:

  • Loss of appetite and loss of muscle mass.
  • Fatigue.
  • Swelling of the abdomen or legs.
  • Easy bruising.
  • Nausea.
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes, skin, and darkening of the urine).
  • Weight loss.
  • Abdominal pain and swelling (ascites).
  • Spider-like blood vessels.
  • Kidney failure.
  • Severe itching.
  • Loss of brain function.

How Is Cirrhosis Treated?

While there’s no cure for cirrhosis, medicines are available to help treat some of the underlying causes, including hepatitis C, and prevent further complications and damage.

For people living with cirrhosis, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help. That includes adopting habits such as:

  • Eating a balanced diet (one that is low in sodium).
  • Avoiding the use of alcohol or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
  • Staying in close contact with your doctor.

It’s also important to watch for any signs of bleeding, yellow color to the skin, confusion, fever, and abdominal swelling.

Liver Transplant for Cirrhosis

In severe cases, such as a chronic diagnosis, liver failure, or liver cancer, medicine-based treatments may not be useful. When the liver is damaged and can’t function properly, a liver transplant may be your only treatment option.

Living-Donor Liver Transplant

The liver transplant waiting list grows longer every day, so it can be difficult for a patient to receive a liver from a deceased donor.

However, because of the liver’s unique ability to regenerate, living-donor liver transplants have become a lifesaving solution for people on the liver transplant waiting list. There are numerous benefits in undergoing this procedure:

  • Reduced or no wait time. The donor and recipient can schedule surgery at a time that’s convenient for both.
  • Quick recovery time. Because of new minimally invasive procedures, both the recipient and donor often return to their normal lifestyle within a few weeks or months following surgery.
  • Improved long-term outcomes. The recipient can benefit from long-term outcomes and a quicker recovery time since the donor’s liver is functioning up until the time of transplant.

If you’re on the waiting list, time is of the essence. Talk to your loved ones today about living donation. Learn more about Living-Donor Liver Transplantation at UPMC.

Talk to your loved ones today about living donation. Learn more about Living-Donor Liver Transplantation at UPMC.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on . Refreshed.

About Transplant Services

For more than four decades, UPMC Transplant Services has been a leader in organ transplantation. Our clinicians have performed more than 20,000 organ transplant procedures, making UPMC one of the foremost organ transplant centers in the world. We are home to some of the world’s foremost transplant experts and take on some of the most challenging cases. Through research, we have developed new therapies that provide our patients better outcomes — so organ recipients can enjoy better health with fewer restrictions. Above all, we are committed to providing compassionate, complete care that can change – and save – our patients’ lives. Visit our website to find a provider near you.