Understanding cirrhosis

Cirrhosis of the liver is a late-stage consequence of liver disease. It causes scarring and damage to the liver. This scarring may eventually prevent the liver from functioning correctly, leading to liver failure.

Many things can eventually lead to cirrhosis, including:

Cirrhosis is a progressive disease, meaning it gets worse over time. Once you have cirrhosis, there’s no way to reverse it. Instead, treatment focuses on slowing down its progression.

Depending on how severe it is, cirrhosis can have an effect on life expectancy. If you have cirrhosis, there are several tools your doctor can use to give you a better understanding of your outlook.

There are several ways to help determine the potential life expectancy of someone with cirrhosis. Two of the most popular ones are the Child-Turcotte-Pugh (CTP) score and the Model for End-stage Liver Disease (MELD) score.

CPT score

Doctors use someone’s CPT score to determine whether they have class A, B, or C cirrhosis. Class A cirrhosis is mild and has the longest life expectancy. Class B cirrhosis is more moderate, while class C cirrhosis is severe.

Learn more about the CPT score.

MELD score

The MELD system helps to determine the risk of death in people with end-stage liver disease. It uses values from laboratory tests to create a MELD score. The measurements used to get a MELD score include bilirubin, serum sodium, and serum creatinine.

MELD scores help to determine three-month mortality rate. This refers to someone’s likelihood of dying within three months. While this helps to give doctors a better idea of someone’s life expectancy, it also helps to prioritize those waiting for a liver transplant.

For someone with cirrhosis, a liver transplant can add years to their life expectancy. The higher someone’s MELD score is, the more likely they are to die within three months. This can move them higher up the list of those waiting for a liver transplant.

When talking about life expectancy, it’s important to remember that it’s an estimate. There’s no way to know exactly how long someone with cirrhosis will live. But the CPT and MELD scores can help to give a general idea.

CPT score chart

ScoreClassTwo-year survival rate
5–6A85 percent
7–9B60 percent
10–15B35 percent

MELD score chart

ScoreThree-month mortality risk
Less than 91.9 percent
10–196.0 percent
20–2919.6 percent
30–3952.6 percent
Greater than 4071.3 percent

While there’s no way to reverse cirrhosis, there are several things you can do to try to help slow down its progression and avoid additional liver damage.

These include:

  • Avoiding alcohol. Even if your cirrhosis isn’t related to alcohol, it’s best to abstain because alcohol can damage your liver, especially if it’s already damaged.
  • Limit salt. A cirrhotic liver has a hard time keeping fluid in the blood. Salt intake raises the risk of fluid overload. You don’t have to eliminate it from your diet completely, but try to stay away from processed foods and avoid adding too much salt while cooking.
  • Reduce your risk of infection. It’s harder for a damaged liver to make proteins that help fight off infection. Wash your hands frequently and try to limit your contact with people who have any kind of active infection, from a common cold to the flu.
  • Use over-the-counter drugs carefully. Your liver is the main processor of any chemicals or medications you consume. Make sure to tell your doctor about any over-the-counter medications, supplements, or herbs you use to make sure they aren’t putting a burden on your liver.

Being diagnosed with cirrhosis or being told you have severe cirrhosis can feel overwhelming. Plus, hearing that the condition isn’t reversible can send some people into a panic.

If you’re not sure what to do next, consider these steps:

  • Join a support group. Hospitals and healthcare facilities often coordinate support groups for people with chronic conditions, including liver disease and cirrhosis. Ask your doctor’s office or local hospital’s education department if they have any group recommendations. You can also look for online support groups through the American Liver Foundation.
  • See a specialist. If you are not already seeing one, make an appointment to see a hepatologist or gastroenterologist. These are doctors who specialize in treating liver disease and related conditions. They can offer a second opinion and give you more information about treatment plans that will work best for you.
  • Focus on the present. This is easier said than done, regardless of whether or not you have a chronic health condition. But dwelling on your diagnosis or blaming yourself for it won’t change anything. Try to shift your attention toward what you can still do for your health and quality of life, whether that’s consuming less salt or spending more time with loved ones.

Was this helpful?

Cirrhosis is a chronic condition that can shorten someone’s life expectancy. Doctors use several measurements to determine the outlook of someone with cirrhosis, but these only provide estimates. If you have cirrhosis, your doctor can give you a better idea of your outlook and what you can do to improve it.