The life expectancy of someone with cirrhosis of the liver varies greatly with the cause, extent and progression of the disease, as reported by the Digestive Disease Center at the Medical University of South Carolina. Many people with cirrhosis have the disease for several years without any apparent ill effects, but patients who experience symptomatic cirrhosis usually also experience some reduction in life expectancy from the disease.
Cirrhosis of the liver involves the formation of nodules of scar tissue in the liver that ultimately begin to impede its functional capabilities, explains the DDC. These nodules are commonly caused by long-term abuse of alcohol or by infection by one of the strains of the hepatitis virus. While a small number of scar nodules can be tolerated without ill effect, large amounts of scar tissue impair liver function and may predispose people with cirrhosis to develop liver cancer. Cirrhosis can also cause blood vessels in the stomach and intestine to distend, leading to bleeding into the digestive lumen, fluid retention in the abdomen and swelling of the spleen.
Patients who experience diagnosable cirrhosis symptoms have often progressed far enough into the disease that it is likely to affect their overall life expectancy, but it is difficult to precisely determine how much effect cirrhosis itself has in isolation from its causes, notes the DDC. However, patients whose cirrhosis leads to the development of liver cancer may experience a significant reduction in life expectancy regardless of the initial cause of their cirrhosis. Cirrhosis treatment almost always improves the quality of life for patients and can mitigate some of the loss in life expectancy as well.