Cirrhosis (Liver)

  • Medical Author:
    Dennis Lee, MD

    Dr. Lee was born in Shanghai, China, and received his college and medical training in the United States. He is fluent in English and three Chinese dialects. He graduated with chemistry departmental honors from Harvey Mudd College. He was appointed president of AOA society at UCLA School of Medicine. He underwent internal medicine residency and gastroenterology fellowship training at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Quick GuideDigestive Disorders: Common Misconceptions

Digestive Disorders: Common Misconceptions

What are the complications of cirrhosis? (Continued)

Hepatopulmonary syndrome

Rarely, some patients with advanced cirrhosis can develop hepatopulmonary syndrome. These patients can experience difficulty breathing because certain hormones released in advanced cirrhosis cause the lungs to function abnormally. The basic problem in the lung is that not enough blood flows through the small blood vessels in the lungs that are in contact with the alveoli (air sacs) of the lungs. Blood flowing through the lungs is shunted around the alveoli and cannot pick up enough oxygen from the air in the alveoli. As a result the patient experiences shortness of breath, particularly with exertion.

Hypersplenism

The spleen normally acts as a filter to remove older red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets (small particles that are important for the clotting of blood.). The blood that drains from the spleen joins the blood in the portal vein from the intestines. As the pressure in the portal vein rises in cirrhosis, it increasingly blocks the flow of blood from the spleen. The blood "backs-up," accumulating in the spleen, and the spleen swells in size, a condition referred to as splenomegaly. Sometimes, the spleen is so enlarged that it causes abdominal pain.

As the spleen enlarges, it filters out more and more of the blood cells and platelets until their numbers in the blood are reduced. Hypersplenism is the term used to describe this condition, and it is associated with a low red blood cell count (anemia), low white blood cell count (leucopenia), and/or a low platelet count (thrombocytopenia). The anemia can cause weakness, the leucopenia can lead to infections, and the thrombocytopenia can impair the clotting of blood and result in prolonged bleeding.

Liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma)

Cirrhosis due to any cause increases the risk of primary liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma). Primary refers to the fact that the tumor originates in the liver. A secondary liver cancer is one that originates elsewhere in the body and spreads (metastasizes) to the liver.

The most common symptoms and signs of primary liver cancer are abdominal pain and swelling, an enlarged liver, weight loss, and fever. In addition, liver cancers can produce and release a number of substances, including ones that cause an increased in red blood cell count (erythrocytosis), low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), and high blood calcium (hypercalcemia ).

Reviewed on 10/11/2016
References
Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care

REFERENCE:

UpToDate. Patient information: Cirrhosis (Beyond the Basics).

IMAGES:

1.Getty Images

2.MedicineNet

3.MedicineNet/iStock

4.

5.Getty Images/iStock/Bigstock

6.MedicineNet

7.MedicineNet

8.MedicineNet

9.iStock

10.iStock

11.

12.iStock

13.Getty Images/Polka Dot

14.Getty Images/iStock

15.

16.

17.Getty Images/Stockbyte

18.

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Newsletters

Get the latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors