Symptoms of Cirrhosis of the Liver
Cirrhosis of the Liver, or Chronic Liver Disease, is often asymptomatic until the liver is extensively damaged, and therefore symptoms are not common during the early stages of cirrhosis. However, as scar tissue accumulates the liver’s ability to function properly is undermined.
How We Discovered That My Mother Had Cirrhosis
My mom’s very first sign of liver cirrhosis was edema – fluid buildup in the ankles, feet and legs.
She mentioned this numerous times to her physician, who prescribed diuretics (water pills) to help flush out the extra water.
My mother was not a drinker, but she was overweight, sedentary and pre-diabetic with high lipids (sometimes called Metabolic Syndrome or Syndrome ‘X’).
Mom had been diagnosed with fatty liver some years before, but that is quite common, and had not set off any alarms.
At this point though, her doctor should have done a simple liver enzymes blood test, as chronic edema is considered one of the early signs of liver decompensation.
But he didn’t.
I imagine he assumed the swollen feet and ankles were caused by other, more common, benign factors.
Mom suffered with uncomfortable and unsightly swollen legs for around five years before a much more serious symptom emerged…
– ascities – fluid buildup in the stomach. In her case, the fluid was pushed by her diaphragm up into the lining around her lungs, and she began having a hard time getting a full breath of air.
When she saw the doctor for this, he sent her for a chest x-ray that day. The x-ray indicated a problem, and mom was told to go to emergency immediately for more testing. She was admitted briefly to the hospital for a battery of tests, which ultimately confirmed she had cirrhosis of the liver. At that point, the cirrhosis was considered advanced.
That was only the beginning of a two year nightmare, involving nearly all of the symptoms listed below at some point or another.
While there were some periods of time when her health would rally somewhat (my sister and I called these ‘reprieves’), the disease was unrelenting in its progression.
Mom was in an out of the hospital, and eventually had a TIPS procedure to bypass the liver’s portal vein and help with the fluid buildup. It only helped for a few months.
In the end, mom was admitted to hospice, where she suffered a fatal variceal bleed (internal bleeding caused by increased blood pressure in the portal vein system).
The presence of enlarged veins (varices) usually causes no symptoms.
Until they bleed.
And then it becomes an emergency.
Sometimes a surgeon can tie off or cauterize the bleed.
In my mom’s situation, she was already so weak and ill that her body would not have survived any kind of invasive medical intervention.
So with that said, these are the signs and symptoms may occur in the earlier stages of cirrhosis:
- Blood capillaries become visible on the skin on the upper abdomen
- Itchy skin
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of body weight
- Pain or tenderness in the area where the liver is located
- Red or blotchy palms
The following signs and symptoms may appear as liver cirrhosis progresses:
- Abdomen fills up with fluid, giving the patient a large tummy (ascites)
- Accelerated heartbeat
- Altered personality (as blood toxins build up and affect the brain)
- Bleeding gums
- Body and upper arms lose mass
- Body finds it harder to process alcohol
- Body finds it harder to process drugs
- Fluid buildup on ankles, feet and legs (edema)
- Hair loss
- Higher susceptibility to bruising
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin, whites of the eyes, and tongue)
- Loss of libido (sex drive)
- Memory problems
- More frequent fevers (susceptibility to infections)
- Muscle cramps
- Pain on the right shoulder
- Panting (breathlessness)
- Stools become black and tarry, or very pale
- Urine becomes darker
- Vomiting blood
- Walking problems (staggering).
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