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For further information, see CMDT Part 16-11: Cirrhosis

Key Features

Essentials of Diagnosis

  • Result of injury with inflammation that leads to both fibrosis and regenerating nodules

  • May be reversible if cause is removed

  • The clinical features result from hepatic cell dysfunction, portosystemic shunting, and portal hypertension

General Considerations

  • The most common histologic classification of cirrhosis is micronodular, macronodular, and mixed forms

  • Each form may be seen at different stages of the disease

  • Risk factors

    • Chronic viral hepatitis

    • Alcohol

    • Drug toxicity

    • Autoimmune and metabolic liver diseases, including nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

    • Miscellaneous disorders

  • Gluten enteropathy appears to be associated with an increased risk of cirrhosis

  • Many patients have more than one risk factor (eg, chronic hepatitis and alcohol use)

  • The risk of hospitalization or death due to cirrhosis has been reported to correlate with protein and cholesterol consumption and with hyperuricemia and inversely with carbohydrate consumption

  • Three clinical stages

    • Compensated

    • Compensated with varices

    • Decompensated (ascites, variceal bleeding, encephalopathy, or jaundice)

  • Acute-on-chronic liver failure

    • Should be diagnosed in a patient with chronic cirrhosis and acute decompensation, which is defined as

      • New or worsening ascites

      • Thought to involve intense systemic inflammation and oxidative stress

      • Gastrointestinal hemorrhage, including variceal hemorrhage

      • Overt hepatic encephalopathy

      • Worsening nonobstructive jaundice

      • Bacterial infection associated with other organ failure

    • Precipitating factors include

      • Infections

      • Hemodynamic instability

      • Heavy alcohol use

      • Drug hepatotoxicity

  • Histologic classification divides cirrhosis into micronodular, macronodular, and mixed forms

    • These are descriptive terms rather than separate diseases

    • Each form may be seen in the same patient at different stages of the disease


  • Regenerating nodules are < 1 mm

  • Typical of alcoholic liver disease (Laennec cirrhosis)


  • Characterized by larger nodules, up to several centimeters in diameter, which may contain central veins

  • Corresponds to postnecrotic (posthepatitic) cirrhosis; but may not always follow identifiable episodes of massive necrosis and stromal collapse


  • The eleventh leading cause of death globally and eighth leading cause of death in the United States

  • The prevalence rate is 0.27%, with an estimated 1.5 billion persons having chronic liver disease and 2.14 million liver-related deaths worldwide

  • Mexican Americans and Blacks have a higher frequency of cirrhosis than Whites because of a higher rate of risk factors

Clinical Findings

Symptoms and Signs

  • Can be asymptomatic for long periods

  • Symptoms may be insidious or, less often, abrupt

  • Fatigue, disturbed sleep, muscle cramps, anorexia, and weight loss are common

  • Nausea and occasional vomiting

  • Reduced muscle strength and exercise capacity

  • Jaundice—usually not an initial sign—is mild at first, increasing in severity

  • Abdominal pain from hepatic enlargement and stretching of Glisson capsule or from ascites

  • Hematemesis is the presenting symptom in 15–25%

  • Abdominal wall hernias occur in 20% ...

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