What are the Different Stages of Cirrhosis of the Liver?

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  • Written By: C.B. Fox
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 26 January 2020
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There are four main stages of cirrhosis of the liver. In the first three stages, the patient is able to compensate for the deficiencies in the organ. If cirrhosis is caught in one of these early stages, the prognosis is much better, and the patient can expect to survive the disease for many years. The final stage, however, comes with a plethora of other health problems because the body can no longer make up for the loss of liver function. Patients in stage four require a liver transplant to survive more than a couple of years.

The first stage is commonly referred to as the compensated stage. The tissue of the liver is inflamed, but this inflammation and subsequent deterioration of tissue progresses slowly. Though there is damage to the liver, the body can still compensate for the problems this creates. This stage can persist for many years and, generally, there are no symptoms present. If symptoms are present, close observation may show mild jaundice, dry mouth, fatigue or swelling of the abdomen.

In the second stage, the diseased tissue that has been accumulating for years is transformed into stiff bands. This transformation, known as fibrosis, can spread across the liver and to the veins that lead into it. Inflammation can also spread to the surrounding areas, though it may still be mild enough that it is not noticed by the patient.


As the fibrosis and swelling continue to expand to other areas in the third stage of cirrhosis of the liver, the affected regions begin to merge with one another. This can disrupt liver function to the point where symptoms become apparent. Jaundice, fatigue and noticeable swelling may all be present in this stage. Additionally, a patient may have vitamin deficiencies, especially the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, because without a fully functioning liver, the patient cannot properly digest fats.

The liver will enter the decompensated stage, or stage four, when the body is no longer able to compensate for inadequate liver function. At this point, the liver has broken down and a live organ transplant is needed to save the patient. Symptoms in the last of the stages of cirrhosis of the liver can be severe and, in addition to the symptoms experienced in earlier stages, can include fever, loss of appetite, pain and cramping, and easy bruising and bleeding. The loss of proper liver function can also affect the nearby organs, including the spleen and kidneys.


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Post 3
I used to know a lot of people who would make jokes about cirrhosis of the liver symptoms, because they liked to drink a lot. I actually do think some of them were borderline alcoholics. I feel slightly ashamed about it now, because it is a serious disease, and really they were making themselves ill and taking their bodies for granted by drinking to excess all the time.

I'm glad that stage of my life is behind me now.

Post 2

@croydon - Well, actually it's not as difficult to get a liver transplant as with some other organs. A healthy liver can actually be divided into more than one transplantable piece, so it's even possible to get donations from relatives. It is a very difficult procedure though and the doctors won't perform it if they know the cause of the liver disease are still there.

For example, if the person was an alcoholic and is still drinking or not committed to an AA program.

Post 1

What I find most alarming about this is that is seems like it would be very difficult to recognize this was happening since most of the early symptoms are so mild.

You could easily dismiss them as just the signs of getting older or of the symptoms of another condition without ever getting your liver checked out.

And it's not like it's easy to get a new liver. Cirrhosis of the liver life expectancy must be quite low.

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