Chronic liver disease develops from long-term liver damage over months to years. The most common causes are viral hepatitis and chronically high alcohol consumption.

Chronic liver disease is the progressive deterioration (or weakening) of your liver function over many months to years.

Long-term inflammation in your liver can lead to lead to scarring called fibrosis and eventually severe and permanent scarring called cirrhosis. People with cirrhosis are at risk of developing end stage liver failure or liver cancer.

Chronic liver disease can be caused by:

  • high alcohol consumption over many years
  • hepatitis and other viral infections
  • metabolic dysfunction associated steatotic liver disease (MASLD), previously known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • genetic diseases
  • autoimmune disease

Read on to learn more about chronic liver disease, including its stages, causes, and outlook.

Here’s a look at the stages of chronic liver disease.


Hepatitis is inflammation of your liver. It’s often caused by viral infection or heavy alcohol consumption. Chronic inflammation can lead to fibrosis.


Fibrosis is the buildup of scar tissue in your liver in response to chronic inflammation. Scar tissue is made up of strands of a protein called collagen. If left untreated, fibrosis can advance to cirrhosis.


Cirrhosis is severe and permanent scarring in your liver that prevents it from working properly. It’s estimated to occur in 0.15% to 0.27% of people in the United States.

It’s subclassified as:

Liver failure

People with severe liver damage can develop liver failure. This is when your liver can’t work well enough to perform all its normal tasks. If your liver becomes severely damaged, you may require a liver transplant.

People with decompensated cirrhosis are at risk of end stage liver failure, in which the liver is damaged beyond repair.

Liver cancer

Cirrhosis is the top risk factor for the development of the most common type of liver cancer called hepatocellular carcinoma. About 80% to 90% of people who develop hepatocellular carcinoma have cirrhosis.

Chronic liver failure is caused by long-term inflammation or injury to your liver. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 4.5 million adults in the United States are living with liver disease.

Potential causes include:

alcohol-related liver diseaserepeatedly consuming too much alcohol
viral hepatitisviral hepatitis infection
MASLDoften linked to type 2 diabetes and obesity
genetic diseaseWilson disease
alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency
hereditary hemochromatosis
autoimmune diseasesprimary biliary cirrhosis
primary sclerosing cholangitis
autoimmune hepatitis
long-term drug use• amiodarone (Pacerone, Cordarone, Nexterone)
• isoniazid (Hydra, Hyzyd, Isovit)
• methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall, Otrexup, Rasuvo)
• nitrofurantoin (Aratoin, Furadantin, Macrobid, Macrodantin)
• phenytoin (Dilantin)
unclear causeoccurs in about 15% of cases

Chronic liver disease can cause progressively more severe symptoms as your liver becomes more damaged. Signs and symptoms can include:

Potential complications of chronic liver disease include:

It’s important to get medical attention if you suspect you may have liver disease. It’s especially important if you develop signs of advanced liver disease, such as jaundice or itchy skin.

A doctor might use many tests to confirm chronic liver disease or help investigate the underlying cause. Potential tests include:

Treatment for chronic liver disease might include:

  • regular exercise to retain muscle mass
  • endoscopy to treat esophageal varices
  • lactulose and rifaximin for hepatic encephalopathy
  • stopping the usage of drugs damaging your liver
  • liver transplant
  • taking medications to help your body fight off viral hepatitis
  • avoiding alcohol
  • losing weight for MASLD
  • corticosteroids and immunosuppressants for autoimmune hepatitis
  • iron chelators or blood removal for hereditary hemochromatosis
  • copper chelators for Wilson disease

The outlook for people with chronic liver disease tends to be worse as liver damage increases. People with compensated chronic liver disease have a better outlook than people with decompensated disease.

The average survival time for people with decompensated disease is about 6 months.

Some ways you can potentially prevent chronic liver disease include:

  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • exercising regularly
  • consuming a balanced diet
  • consuming alcohol in moderation or not at all
  • following the recommended dosages for your medications
  • getting vaccinated for viral hepatitis when traveling to countries with high rates of hepatitis
  • wearing a condom or other barrier method when having sex with a new partner who may have viral hepatitis
  • avoiding sharing injection equipment

Here are some frequently asked questions people have about chronic liver disease.

Can chronic liver disease be cured?

Once your liver disease progresses to cirrhosis, it usually can’t be cured. You can make lifestyle changes like avoiding alcohol to prevent your condition from getting worse.

Can you live with chronic liver disease?

Many people with chronic liver disease live for years after receiving a diagnosis. Your degree of liver damage plays a large role in determining how likely it is to affect your life expectancy.

What’s the difference between chronic liver disease and cirrhosis?

Chronic liver disease is the loss of liver function over months to years. Cirrhosis is a feature of chronic liver disease in which scar tissue builds up in your liver and impairs its function.

You can lower your chances of developing chronic liver disease by consuming alcohol in moderation and receiving a hepatitis vaccine before traveling to regions with high rates of viral hepatitis.