Digestive System Home > Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is a medical condition in which large areas of the liver become badly scarred. It can be caused by infections, drug and/or alcohol abuse, or a blocked bile duct. The treatment depends on the cause of the cirrhosis and the other problems a person is experiencing. As part of treatment, it is important to avoid alcohol, since this will only cause more liver damage.

What Is Cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis refers to a condition that occurs when large areas of the liver become permanently damaged because of scar tissue. This scar tissue replaces normal, healthy tissue and blocks the flow of blood through the liver and prevents it from working correctly.
Cirrhosis of the liver is the 12th leading cause of death by disease, killing about 26,000 people each year.

Understanding the Liver

The liver is an organ that performs many important functions. Some key functions include filtering waste and poisons, processing nutrients, storing fuel, and producing bile. Because the liver does so many important things for your body, you can't live without one.
Similar to other organs, the liver can become damaged. When liver cells are first damaged, the immune system sends in special white blood cells in response to the injury. This often causes the liver cells to swell, and this process is called inflammation.
As the liver tries to repair itself, it can form scar tissue. Cirrhosis means that large areas of the liver have become badly scarred -- usually permanently. This causes the liver to shrink and harden.
Scar tissue cannot do what healthy liver tissue does -- make protein, help fight infections, clean the blood, help digest food, and store energy for when you need it. Scar tissue also blocks the normal flow of blood through the liver.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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