Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Cirrhosis and Chronic Liver Failure: What You Should Know


Am Fam Physician. 2006 Sep 1;74(5):781.

  See related article on cirrhosis and chronic liver failure.

What is cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis (say: sih-ROH-sis) is a disease of the liver. Normally, your liver does many things. It helps your body digest fat and break down cholesterol, gets rid of poisons like alcohol and drugs, and stores energy. It also helps your body form blood clots and scabs if you are hurt. If you have cirrhosis, your liver cannot do these things well.

What causes this disease?

Many things can cause cirrhosis. The most common causes are drinking too much alcohol and having hepatitis B or C infection. Being obese also can cause it. Some people get it from being around poisonous chemicals for a long time or from too much iron or copper in their liver.

How do I know if I have cirrhosis?

You may feel less hungry than usual. You may feel sick and dizzy, have stomach pain, vomit, or lose weight. You may have swelling in your abdomen. Your eyes or skin may turn yellow (this is called jaundice [say: JAWN-dis]), and your skin may itch. Cirrhosis also can affect your brain. This can cause you to be confused or see things that aren’t there. You could even go into a coma. But, many people don’t have any symptoms. Your doctor may do tests to find out for sure if you have this disease.

How is cirrhosis treated?

It depends on what caused the disease. Your doctor will treat any serious problems like fluid in your stomach, infection, confusion, coma, or bleeding. You should not drink alcohol. If the disease was caused by hepatitis, you may need medicine to help fight the infection. If you have had the disease for a long time, you may need a liver transplant.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor.

American Liver Foundation

Telephone: 1-800-GOLiver (1-800-465-4837)

Web site:

American Gastroenterological Association

Telephone: 1-301-654-2055

Web site: (click on “Patient Center”)

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2006 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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