Cirrhosis : Symptoms & Signs, Diagnosis & Tests

Symptoms & Signs

Symptoms may develop gradually, or there may be no symptoms.

When symptoms do occur, they can include:

  • Abdominal indigestion or pain
  • Confusion or problems thinking
  • Impotence, loss of interest in sex, and breast development (gynecomastia) in men
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Nosebleeds or bleeding gums
  • Pale or clay-colored stools
  • Small, red spider-like blood vessels on the skin
  • Swelling or fluid buildup of the legs (edema) and in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Vomiting blood or blood in stools
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Yellow color in the skin, mucus membranes, or eyes (jaundice)

Diagnosis & Tests

During a physical examination the health care provider may find:

  • An enlarged liver or spleen
  • Excess breast tissue
  • Expanded (distended) abdomen, as a result of too much fluid
  • Reddened palms
  • Red spider-like blood vessels on the skin
  • Smaller (contracted) fingers
  • Small testicles in men
  • Widened (dilated) veins in the abdomen wall
  • Yellow eyes or skin (jaundice)

Tests can reveal liver problems including:

  • Anemia (detected on a CBC)
  • Clotting problems
  • Liver function problems (detected on liver function tests)
  • Low serum albumin

The following tests may be used to evaluate the liver:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the abdomen
  • Computed tomography (CT) of the abdomen
  • Ultrasound of the abdomen

A liver biopsy confirms cirrhosis.

Some patients will be screened for liver cancer every six months. Your doctor will use a blood test to check for levels of alpha fetoprotein and will do an imaging test (ultrasound, MRI, or CT scan).


Review Date : 10/18/2009
Reviewed By : George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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