Symptoms of cirrhosis are minimal and non-specific in the early stages. As cirrhosis progresses, (i.e. healthy liver cells are destroyed and scar tissue is formed) the function of the liver gets affected and gradually more symptoms appear.
Some symptoms that you may experience with the progress of cirrhosis are:
- general and non-specific symptoms, such as feeling tired and weak, loss of appetite, feeling sick
- unintended weight loss (i.e. weight loss without actually wanting to lose weight)
- itching of the skin all over the body
- pain or tenderness in the abdomen (especially around the liver)
- prominent tiny red lines (blood capillaries) visible on the skin above the waist
- tendency to bleed and bruise easily (such as bleeding from gums, skin bleeds, nosebleeds). Increased tendency to bleed is caused because of changes in blood vessels and poor clotting (as liver fails to make enough clotting proteins in cirrhosis)
- loss of hair
- frequent fever and with chills (as cirrhosis increases the risk of infections)
- swelling of legs, ankles and feet (this occurs because of the build-up of fluid in the tissues). Liver functions to remove excess fluid from the body through the kidneys. When the liver does not function properly, fluid accumulates in the legs, ankle and feet (called edema) or in the abdomen (ascites)
- swelling of the abdomen because of build-up of fluid. This is called ascites (this makes you appear pregnant)
- changes in shape and appearance of nails like they may become more curved (clubbing) or white rather than pink
- breasts in men may enlarge. One of the functions of liver is to destroy the female sex hormones in men. When the liver is affected by cirrhosis, these hormones are not destroyed and accumulate leading to enlargement of the breasts and shrinking of the testes.
- jaundice (yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes). It can be caused because of blockage in the bile duct (the tube that transports bile from the liver to the gallbladder) or liver damage. In liver damage, the liver fails to metabolise bilirubin (a yellow substance in your blood formed as a by-product of red blood cells).
- changes in personality. It is caused because of accumulation of waste products and toxins in your bloodstream that affect the brain. Liver functions to remove waste products and toxins from the body. Damage of the liver function hinders the removal of these waste products and affects the nervous system causing symptoms, such as problem with sleeping (insomnia), memory loss, confusion and difficulty in concentrating (encephalopathy).
Cirrhosis in the advanced stages can cause serious symptoms, such as blood in vomit, tarry or black stools, change in awareness level, confusion and coma.
Read more articles on Cirrhosis