The Stages of Cirrhosis
There are four stages of chronic liver disease.
1. The commonest and mildest form of liver damage is a ‘fatty’ liver. This can be identified by blood tests, and is reversible with abstinence from alcohol.
2. The next step cannot be identified by blood tests, but a liver biopsy will show inflammation in addition to the excess fat. This is called steatohepatitis. In severe cases, jaundice may develop. A diagnosis of acute alcoholic hepatitis can then be made (see below).
3. At the next stage, fibrosis (scar tissue) is present. Again, this cannot be detected by blood tests or routine scans.
4. Cirrhosis occurs when the fibrosis reaches the stage when the normally soft liver is divided into thousands of pea-sized pockets of liver tissue, wrapped in fibrosis. Once cirrhosis develops, the prognosis partly depends on whether or not you continue drinking. People with compensated cirrhosis – meaning they have no symptoms – and who then stop drinking, have an 80% chance of being alive after 10 years.
The majority of those with decompensated cirrhosis – displaying symptoms – will die within three years unless successful treatment or a transplant is undertaken.