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Patient information A-Z

Who is the leaflet for?

Patients diagnosed with cirrhosis.

What is its aim?

To provide an overview of cirrhosis and links to more detailed resources.

What is cirrhosis?

Liver cirrhosis is a condition in which the liver is severely scarred. Common causes of cirrhosis are alcohol, fat deposition (usually associated with obesity and diabetes), hepatitis C, autoimmune liver diseases (autoimmune hepatitis, primary biliary cholangitis, previously known as primary biliary cirrhosis, and primary sclerosing cholangitis), hepatitis B and inherited conditions (haemochromatosis, Wilson’s Disease and alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency).

How common is cirrhosis?

It is estimated that more than 60,000 people have cirrhosis in the UK.

What symptoms does cirrhosis cause?

Cirrhosis does not usually cause symptoms until it is advanced. Initially it causes various blood test abnormalities, followed later by symptoms including tiredness, fluid accumulation, weight loss, bruising, yellow jaundice, generalised itch, dark/tarry stools and confusion. Please seek medical attention if you develop any of these problems. Cirrhosis is also associated with liver cancer (between 1 in 100 and 1 in 20 risk per year).

How is cirrhosis diagnosed?

Cirrhosis is diagnosed with a combination of blood tests, radiology investigations such as ultrasound and CT scanning, and liver biopsy. The exact investigation is individually dependent.

How is cirrhosis treated?

The most important treatment of cirrhosis is removing or treating the underlying cause. It is recommended that all patients with cirrhosis, regardless of the cause, avoid alcohol as it may increase the risk of developing complications. Patients who develop cirrhosis due to hepatitis B or C should be considered for treatment of these viruses. Other treatments include careful weight loss if obese, venesection to clear iron and some other diseasespecific medications. Otherwise, treatment is aimed at early identification of and dealing with complications.

Cirrhosis monitoring involves endoscopies to assess for varicose veins in the gullet, ultrasound scans every six months to assess for liver cancer, bone scanning to detect osteoporosis and regular blood test monitoring to pick up early signs of liver failure. Treatment of any of these complications will be discussed should they occur. Ultimately, should liver failure develop despite addressing the underlying cause, consideration of liver transplantation may become necessary. In patients where transplantation is not feasible hospital and community palliative care teams can play a valuable role in helping patients and their families.

Vaccination schedules

All patients with cirrhosis should receive vaccination against influenza every year and the Pneumovax® every five years, in addition to hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccination as required depending on blood test results. The reason for immunisation against these viruses is that they can be life threatening for patients with cirrhosis. Vaccination should be arranged through your General Practice.

We recommend SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) vaccination when it is offered to you.

Further information and useful contacts

We are smoke-free

Smoking is not allowed anywhere on the hospital campus. For advice and support in quitting, contact your GP or the free NHS stop smoking helpline on 0800 169 0 169.

Other formats

Help accessing this information in other formats is available. To find out more about the services we provide, please visit our patient information help page (see link below) or telephone 01223 256998.

Contact us

Cambridge University Hospitals
NHS Foundation Trust
Hills Road, Cambridge

Telephone +44 (0)1223 245151