Decompensated liver disease is also known as decompensated cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is a chronic liver disease that’s commonly the result of hepatitis or alcohol use disorder. Cirrhosis is the severe scarring of the liver seen at the terminal stages of chronic liver disease. When your liver is damaged, scar tissue is formed as it tries to repair itself.
Cirrhosis is divided into two categories:
- Compensated: When you don’t have any symptoms of the disease, you’re considered to have compensated cirrhosis.
- Decompensated: When your cirrhosis has progressed to the point that the liver is having trouble functioning and you start having symptoms of the disease, you’re considered to have decompensated cirrhosis.
When compensated liver disease progresses to decompensated liver disease, typical symptoms can include:
- easy bruising and bleeding
- yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- fluid build-up in the abdomen (ascites)
- fluid build-up in the ankles and legs
- abdominal pain
- brownish or orange urine
- loss of appetite or weight loss
- confusion, memory loss, or insomnia (hepatic encephalopathy)
The scarring that defines cirrhosis can be caused by a number of liver diseases. The three most common are:
- viral hepatitis (hepatitis B and hepatitis C)
- alcohol-related liver disease
- nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
Other causes include:
- hemochromatosis (iron buildup in the body)
- cystic fibrosis
- Wilson’s disease (copper accumulation in the liver)
- biliary atresia (poorly formed bile ducts)
- galactosemia or glycogen storage disease (inherited sugar metabolism disorders)
- Alagille syndrome (genetic digestive disorder)
- primary biliary cholangitis (destruction of the bile ducts)
- primary sclerosing cholangitis (hardening and scarring of the bile ducts)
- medications such as methotrexate (Rheumatrex), amiodarone (Cordarone), and methyldopa (Aldomet)
- fever or shivering
- shortness of breath
- vomiting blood
- periods of drowsiness
- periods of mental confusion
- stopping alcohol consumption
- losing weight
- hepatitis medication, such as ribavirin (Ribasphere), entecavir (Baraclude), tenofovir (Viread) or lamivudine (Epivir)
- medications to control other causes, such as ursodiol (Actigall) for primary biliary cholangitis or penicillamine (Cuprimine) for Wilson’s disease
When to see a doctor
If you have the symptoms of cirrhosis and they persist to a point that you feel they are outside of a normal range, make an appointment to see your doctor.
If you have been diagnosed with cirrhosis in the past, see your doctor if you experience:
Treating decompensated liver disease
The treatment of decompensated liver disease is focused on stopping the progression of the disease and managing the symptoms to improve quality of life. Treatment depends on the root cause of the disease. This may include:
People with severe liver damage may need a liver transplant.
What is decompensated liver disease life expectancy?
People diagnosed with decompensated cirrhosis have an average life expectancy between 1 and 3 years. However, this depends on age, overall health, and potential complications, such as the severity of symptoms and other diseases.
For people who get a liver transplant, research shows that the 5 year survival rate is about 75 percent. Many liver transplant recipients are able to live a normal life for over twenty years or more after the operation.
Decompensated liver disease is a very serious condition that can lead to death. If you’re concerned you may be at risk for decompensated liver disease or you’re experiencing symptoms of decompensated liver disease, see your doctor and discuss your options.