Cirrhosis of the liver is a serious condition, causing scarring and permanent damage to the liver. Life expectancy depends on the stage and type of liver cirrhosis, but it may vary between roughly 2–12 years.
The liver is the second largest organ in the human body and one of the most important for human health. Cirrhosis is a progressive condition that puts both a person’s liver and life at risk.
Despite its severity, the condition is not rare, as millions of people in the United States are living with cirrhosis. This number could be even higher, as many people do not receive a diagnosis until they develop advanced symptoms.
Over time, the disease keeps the liver from working properly and eventually causes failure. Life expectancy with liver cirrhosis can vary depending on the stage of the condition, and how a person is treating and managing the condition. Typically, a person with cirrhosis of the liver may have a life expectancy of around 2–12 years.
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. Evidence notes that an individual with advanced stage cirrhosis will have an average life expectancy of about 2 years.
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 healthy 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
Some frequently asked questions about liver cirrhosis may include:
How long can a person live with cirrhosis of liver?
The life expectancy of a person with liver cirrhosis will depend on the stage of cirrhosis and other factors, such as how they are managing the condition. Typically, the life expectancy for a person with cirrhosis of the liver is around 2–12 years.
Is cirrhosis of the liver usually fatal?
Cirrhosis is often irreversible and is a progressive condition, meaning it gets worse over time. Cirrhosis can be fatal if it progresses to liver failure.
What are the 4 stages of cirrhosis?
There are 2 clinical stages of cirrhosis: compensated and decompensated cirrhosis. However, some health experts may refer to the 4 stages of liver disease. These include inflammation, fibrosis, cirrhosis, and end-stage liver disease.
What are the last stages of cirrhosis of the liver before death?
End-stage liver disease, also known as chronic liver failure, can occur as a result of cirrhosis. When cirrhosis progresses to this stage, it can be fatal.
Cirrhosis is a severe condition that causes 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, taking certain lifestyle steps, such as making dietary changes and avoiding alcohol, may help.