Cirrhosis of the liver is one of the final stages of liver disease. It is a serious condition, causing scarring and permanent damage to the liver. Life expectancy depends on the stage and type.
Despite its severity, the condition is not rare. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates there are 4.9 million people in the United States living with cirrhosis.
The National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases state at least 1 in 400 adults in the U.S. has cirrhosis. This number could be even higher, as many people do not receive a diagnosis until they develop advanced symptoms.
Keep reading to explore the life expectancy for cirrhosis by its stage, including diagnosis information and coping tips.
Cirrhosis is a serious condition that causes scarring and permanent damage to the liver. Over time, the disease keeps the organ from working properly and eventually causes failure. Cirrhosis puts people at greater risk for:
- bruising and bleeding easily
- high blood pressure in the liver, or portal hypertension, which can then lead to enlarged veins and internal bleeding, fluid build-up in the abdomen, swelling in the lower extremities, and difficulty thinking
- urinary tract infection
- increased sensitivity to medication
- jaundice, giving people a yellow tinge in their eyes — this discoloration can also affect the skin of those with lighter skin
- liver cancer
- type 2 diabetes
There are two stages in cirrhosis: compensated and decompensated.
Compensated cirrhosis: People with compensated cirrhosis do not show symptoms, while life expectancy is around 9–12 years. A person can remain asymptomatic for years, although 5–7% of those with the condition will develop symptoms every year.
Decompensated cirrhosis: People with decompensated cirrhosis already experience symptoms and complications. Their life expectancy is greatly reduced than those with compensated cirrhosis, while experts recommend referral for a possible liver transplant in these cases.
Physicians use diagnostic tests and scoring to determine a person’s stage of cirrhosis, which will help project their life expectancy. The Child-Turcotte-Pugh (CTP) system awards points based on whether an individual has:
- an abnormal build-up of fluid in the abdomen, and how it responds to treatment
- dysfunction in the brain
- normal levels of albumin, a protein made by the liver
- high levels of bilirubin, which could mean the liver is not working properly
- normal blood clotting time, or international normalized ratio (INR)
With the CTP system, a person’s score increases according to the number and severity of their symptoms. Based on these scores, the system assigns people into different classes:
- Class A: 5–6 points
- Class B: 7–9 points
- Class C: 10–15 points
Healthcare professionals will project the life expectancy of people with cirrhosis using CTP scores in the following chart:
|CTP class||3-month survival rate||1-year survival rate||2-year survival rate|
Physicians use the Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) to estimate the life expectancy for people with cirrhosis, setting priorities for liver transplants. Experts base MELD scores by measuring an individual’s:
- creatinine, which can indicate kidney damage
The higher an individual’s MELD score, the greater their risk of mortality, as shown by the chart below:
|MELD score||Risk of mortality|
|Less than 9||1.9%|
|More than 40||71.3%|
Following an effective treatment plan, which could slow or stop damage to the liver and manage complications, is the primary way that people with cirrhosis can increase their life expectancy.
Treating the cause of the cirrhosis is also crucial. Even though not all occurrences are due to alcohol abuse, people with this condition can benefit from avoiding alcohol completely, as experts recommend. Antiviral drugs can prevent additional liver damage due to viral hepatitis.
People with cirrhosis need to regularly see their medical team to review how their condition is progressing. This also allows for early intervention and treatment of any complications that may arise. Medications and procedures to treat cirrhosis symptoms include:
- diuretics to reduce excess fluid
- laxatives to help rid the system of toxins
- beta-blockers, to reduce portal hypertension
- using hardening agents to stop bleeding
- a shunt to reduce pressure
- liver transplant
According to the VA, although cirrhosis is progressive, some people with the condition can move from decompensated, or symptomatic, back to the asymptomatic stage. This is a challenging process, although one of the critical steps is avoiding alcohol of any kind.
To prevent progressing from the asymptomatic to the symptomatic stage, people can make the following lifestyle changes:
- exercising regularly
- keeping to a moderate weight
- getting treatment for conditions that might have caused cirrhosis, such as hepatitis C or B
- getting regular check-ups and prompt treatment for complications
- quitting smoking
Of people who develop cirrhosis, 20–60% also develop malnutrition, additional complications, longer hospital stays, and a reduced life expectancy.
This means eating a healthful diet is crucial for those with this condition. Cirrhosis itself can affect diet and metabolism, so people should try:
- consuming a low-salt diet
- limiting fluid intake
- consuming smaller, more frequent meals
- eating plenty of protein
- taking zinc supplements
- avoiding too much vitamin A and D
- avoiding taking vitamin C, if iron levels are high
Cirrhosis is a severe condition, causing scarring and permanent damage to the liver. It can be fatal.
For people with cirrhosis, there is a close link between life expectancy and the number of symptoms and complications they experience.
Physicians use CTP and MELD scores for guidance in referrals for liver transplants.
Although this condition greatly reduces life expectancy, there several ways, such as certain dietary changes and avoiding alcohol, that may help.