Symptoms of Cirrhosis of the Liver

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
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Itchy skin
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of body weight
  • Nausea
  • Pain or tenderness in the area where the liver is located
  • Red or blotchy palms
  • Weakness.


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
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • 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
  • Nosebleeds
  • Pain on the right shoulder
  • Panting (breathlessness)
  • Stools become black and tarry, or very pale
  • Urine becomes darker
  • Vomiting blood
  • Walking problems (staggering).




You may also be interested in:

Fatty Liver and Cirrhosis

Alarming New Liver Statistics

Causes of Cirrhosis of the Liver

Preparing For Your Elderly Parent to Move In

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About Me

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16 thoughts on “Symptoms of Cirrhosis of the Liver

  1. Laurie, I read pretty much all of the articles on your website. I’m very sorry to hear about your Mom. But I would have to think she’d be happy you took the energy of an awful event and turned it into something life affirming and positive for a lot of other people.
    I must say it’s timely for me. My father recently had a brush with what looked like liver cancer – he had ascites and was wasting away – but has since (the last two months) recovered. The specialists have no idea what it was. Only thing we know was that a chance round of antibiotics seemed to turn the tide.
    When I read your information about hospices, cirrhosis of the liver, even CPR, it was extremely topical. Very timely. And very helpful for me.
    I’m feeling much better about what’s down the road for my parents – and eventually for me.
    I just finished a short, beautiful book about aging and death by Oliver Sacks, the author of “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” and “Awakenings”. It’s called “Gratitude”, and it’s a series of short pieces written as his life was coming to a close.
    Your writing – thoughtful, gentle in tone – brought his to mind.
    Are you planning on adding subscribers?
    If so, please let me know – I’d like to subscribe.
    Thanks for having the courage to talk about this Laurie. All the best through what’s to come.
    We’re all in this together after all.

    1. Thank you, Larry … I’m so glad you happened on my blog at a time when it was useful for you. It sounds like your father had a toxic event with his liver which was resolved with the antibiotics and time. The liver has an amazing ability to heal if it has not become fully cirrhotic.

      And thank you for the recommendation of the book by Oliver Sacks and I’m humbly flattered that you would compare my writing to that of a published author; I am, after all, just a beginning blogger … a hobbyist. I will certainly look into that book.

      As for a subscriber list, I will consider it as my content grows. I truly appreciate your interest and your comment.

  2. Hi, this is such a great article. I don’t have any idea about the symptoms of Cirrhosis of the Liver and now this blog gives me an idea of what exactly it is. I am so conscious of my health and one that I’m always taking care of is my liver by not drinking alcohols that much. It’s very scary to see all the symptoms. So I must take note all of these and spread this blog to my friends for them to be aware. Thank you for this one. CHEERS!

  3. I’ll be honest, before I read your post I really didn’t know much about cirrhosis. I’ve heard the term bandied about, but since it wasn’t affecting anyone really close to me, I’d never taken the time to educate myself about it (I feel silly admitting that, but it’s the truth). Your post was really educational, but you balanced that nicely with the personal experience. It seems like the doctor spent way too long putting off getting serious about finding out what was really wrong, and that had to have been super frustrating. Thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Malia. Don’t feel silly – I simply thought liver cirrhosis was an alcoholic’s disease … It certainly wasn’t on my radar before it needed to be.

  4. I know that no matter how many people say “Sorry for your loss” it would never change the pain. Time will..make it better but I would like to thank you. I have a lot of these symptoms including swelling severely of my ankles and feet spreading to my legs for at least a year now. Dr’s won’t listen to me..I keep saying I know my body and something is not right. My feet have now changed a darker color and hurt all the time. I’m trying to get a new PC Dr. because in the 5 years of going they have not done blood work ONE time. I really do thank you, I will be printing this out to show to them!

    1. Tiffany, please request a full blood work up from your doctor as soon as you can. Try to call your doctor’s office tomorrow to book an appointment as early as you can get in. Make sure you request testing of your liver enzymes, as well as your fasting blood glucose levels and whatever else your doctor suggests. Proper testing will help you get to the bottom of your symptoms, and hopefully, an effective treatment to get your health back on track. Please stay in touch and let me know how things go.

  5. Being an Occupation Therapist over a decade, I’ve seen my fair share of patients who have suffered from cirrhosis of the liver.

    You can feel the passion in your writing and I’m so sorry to hear about your mother. I would be upset at the doctor as well who didn’t find out what was really going on at the onset.

    But I really like this post because it gives people signs and symptoms to look out for in themselves and their loved ones.

    Really great post, thanks.

  6. Hi Laurie, with these many symptoms mentioned, chances are that people (including myself) might think they have a few of them. Does this mean that you have it and need to see a doctor? Can you also elaborate on which type of people are liable to develop liver cirrhosis, heavy alcohol drinkers being one of them? Cheers, Jerry

    1. Hi Jerry – I think that any of these symptoms would warrant a doctor visit for investigation, but certainly liver cirrhosis would only be suspected if your symptoms were chronic and if you had one or more risk factors. Heavy drinking, obesity and/or hepatitis B and C would be important risk factors. A simple blood test of your liver enzymes can quickly rule out problems with liver function and set one’s mind at ease.

  7. Hi NewLaurie,
    I think your website is very informative to the public. The page contents detail how this disease “Cirrhosis of the Liver” can cause great harm to someone’s body. This is something that should be of interest to all of us. One fact that stands alone is this is your mother. I believe that you have chosen this niche in order to make your audience aware of your personal experiences dealing with your mother’s disease. I applaud your efforts and hope you succeed all the way.

  8. Cryptogenic cirrhosis of liver with acute GAVE (gastric antral vascular ectasia); that’s my disease. I never tasted alcohol and am a pure vegetarian. Always been a goody two shoes. I have already undergone 8 APC (argon plasma coagulation) and several blood transfusions during the two years it was detected. The questions I ask myself why me! The pain some days is unbearable.

    1. I’m sorry this happened to you, Sarah. I hope your situation will improve. Please stay in touch (you can message me privately here).

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