How does cirrhosis affect my body?

Some of the effects of cirrhosis on the body are directly related to the liver’s function. For example, jaundice develops because the liver can’t properly break down bilirubin. Bilirubin is a by-product of the breakdown of red blood cells; it is excreted into bile and changes the colour of stools. If it builds up in the body it can also lead to yellowing of the skin. Bleeding gums, nosebleeds and bruising happen more easily than usual because the liver stops making enough platelets to help with blood clotting. Finally, brain fog and other serious mental changes linked to hepatic encephalopathy can happen when the injured liver cannot clear the toxin ammonia from the blood.

Other symptoms develop because blood vessels in the scarred liver get narrower or become blocked. This can lead to swelling of the liver and the spleen. These blockages also cause blood and fluids to back up in the body, like water that cannot empty through a blocked drain. The backed-up blood increases pressure within the blood vessels that flow through the liver (called portal hypertension). Blockages also mean that blood is re-routed around the liver through smaller veins in the body. This causes the blood vessels in the food pipe and upper stomach to bulge (varices) and break more easily.