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There are four main stages of cirrhosis of the liver. In the first three stages, the patient is able to compensate for the deficiencies in the organ. If cirrhosis is caught in one of these early stages, the prognosis is much better, and the patient can expect to survive the disease for many years. The final stage, however, comes with a plethora of other health problems because the body can no longer make up for the loss of liver function. Patients in stage four require a liver transplant to survive more than a couple of years.
The first stage is commonly referred to as the compensated stage. The tissue of the liver is inflamed, but this inflammation and subsequent deterioration of tissue progresses slowly. Though there is damage to the liver, the body can still compensate for the problems this creates. This stage can persist for many years and, generally, there are no symptoms present. If symptoms are present, close observation may show mild jaundice, dry mouth, fatigue or swelling of the abdomen.
In the second stage, the diseased tissue that has been accumulating for years is transformed into stiff bands. This transformation, known as fibrosis, can spread across the liver and to the veins that lead into it. Inflammation can also spread to the surrounding areas, though it may still be mild enough that it is not noticed by the patient.
As the fibrosis and swelling continue to expand to other areas in the third stage of cirrhosis of the liver, the affected regions begin to merge with one another. This can disrupt liver function to the point where symptoms become apparent. Jaundice, fatigue and noticeable swelling may all be present in this stage. Additionally, a patient may have vitamin deficiencies, especially the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, because without a fully functioning liver, the patient cannot properly digest fats.
The liver will enter the decompensated stage, or stage four, when the body is no longer able to compensate for inadequate liver function. At this point, the liver has broken down and a live organ transplant is needed to save the patient. Symptoms in the last of the stages of cirrhosis of the liver can be severe and, in addition to the symptoms experienced in earlier stages, can include fever, loss of appetite, pain and cramping, and easy bruising and bleeding. The loss of proper liver function can also affect the nearby organs, including the spleen and kidneys.