Cirrhosis: Prognosis and Life Expectancy

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Cirrhosis is late stage liver disease characterized by scarring of the liver. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, approximately 1 in 200 adults ages 45 to 54 in the United States has cirrhosis. Cirrhosis prognosis and life expectancy depends on individual medical history, lifestyle, and medical care. People with a diagnosis of early stage cirrhosis may live another 9 to 12 years. People with a late stage cirrhosis diagnosis may live another two years.

Understanding the progressive stages of liver cirrhosis may give you a good idea of how long you can live with cirrhosis.

Cirrhosis Rate of Progression

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Because symptoms of liver disease often are not obvious until late in the disease process, many people do not realize they have cirrhosis until the liver is severely damaged.

Liver cirrhosis is generally classified into two stages: compensated or decompensated. Compensated cirrhosis is an earlier stage. People with compensated cirrhosis do not yet have any complications of liver disease. People with compensated cirrhosis can remain in this stage for many years, especially if they take good care of their liver and overall health.

According to a 2006 article published in the World Journal of Hepatology, the transition from compensated cirrhosis to decompensated cirrhosis occurs at a rate of approximately 5 to 7% per year. People with decompensated cirrhosis are generally sicker than those with compensated cirrhosis.

People with decompensated cirrhosis may have any combination of or all of these conditions:

  • Ascites (an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen that causes belly swelling)

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)

  • Bleeding in the esophagus, stomach or intestines

  • Mental confusion caused by the buildup of toxins normally filtered by the liver

 

Cirrhosis Survival Rate 

The median survival rate for people with compensated cirrhosis is 9 to 12 years. Median survival times for people with decompensated cirrhosis is two years.

However, people in the earlier stages of decompensated cirrhosis typically live longer than those in the later stages. A person who has esophageal varices (swollen blood vessels in the esophagus, or tube leading from the mouth to the stomach) is far more likely to survive two years than a person with decompensated cirrhosis who has ascites (a swollen belly). About 50% of people with cirrhosis-related ascites survive one year or longer.

Cirrhosis Life Expectancy  

You cannot undo liver damage, but you can take steps to slow progression of liver disease. To increase cirrhosis life expectancy:

  • Do not drink alcohol or use illegal drugs. Alcohol and many drugs damage the liver.

  • Get tested for hepatitis C virus, a common cause of liver disease. If you have hepatitis C, treatment with oral medication can clear the infection and slow the progression of liver disease. People who undergo treatment can lower their 10-year risk of death.

  • Avoid taking acetaminophen (Tylenol), as it can damage the liver. Talk with your physician before taking any over-the-counter or prescription medication.

  • Eat a healthy diet. If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar under control.

  • Maintain a moderate weight.

  • Seek regular medical care and follow your doctor’s instructions.

  • People who develop end stage liver disease may be eligible for a liver transplant. Receiving a liver transplant can significantly extend your life expectancy.

Your doctor can help you understand your outlook and how long you may live based on your specific circumstances. You can also discuss all available treatment options for cirrhosis and the type of self-care and lifestyle changes would be most helpful for you.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Dec 14
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