Complications of cirrhosis can include:

Complications related to blood flow:

  • High blood pressure in the veins that supply the liver (portal hypertension). Cirrhosis slows the normal flow of blood through the liver, thus increasing pressure in the vein that brings blood from the intestines and spleen to the liver.
  • Swelling in the legs and abdomen. Portal hypertension can cause fluid to accumulate in the legs (edema) and in the abdomen (ascites). Edema and ascites also may result from the inability of the liver to make enough of certain blood proteins, such as albumin.
  • Enlargement of the spleen (splenomegaly). Portal hypertension can also cause changes to the spleen. Decreased white blood cells and platelets in your blood can be the first sign of cirrhosis.
  • Bleeding. Portal hypertension can cause blood to be redirected to smaller veins. Strained by the extra load, these smaller veins can burst, causing serious bleeding. High blood pressure also may cause enlarged veins (varices) and lead to life-threatening bleeding in the esophagus (esophageal varices) or the stomach (gastric varices). If the liver can't make enough clotting factors, this also can contribute to continued bleeding.

Other complications:

  • Infections. If you have cirrhosis, your body may have difficulty fighting infections. Ascites can lead to bacterial peritonitis, a serious infection.
  • Malnutrition. Cirrhosis may make it more difficult for your body to process nutrients, leading to weakness and weight loss.
  • Buildup of toxins in the brain (hepatic encephalopathy). A liver damaged by cirrhosis isn't able to clear toxins from the blood as well as a healthy liver can. These toxins can then build up in the brain and cause mental confusion and difficulty concentrating. With time, hepatic encephalopathy can progress to unresponsiveness or coma.
  • Jaundice. Jaundice occurs when the diseased liver doesn't remove enough bilirubin, a blood waste product, from your blood. Jaundice causes yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes and darkening of urine.
  • Bone disease. Some people with cirrhosis lose bone strength and are at greater risk of fractures.
  • Gallstones and bile duct stones. Blocked flow of bile can lead to irritation, infection and the creation of stones.
  • Increased risk of liver cancer.
  • Acute-on-chronic cirrhosis. Some people end up experiencing multiorgan failure. Researchers now believe this is a distinct complication in some people who have cirrhosis, but they don't fully understand its causes.
Aug. 16, 2014

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