Attention A T users. To access the menus on this page please perform the following steps. 1. Please switch auto forms mode to off. 2. Hit enter to expand a main menu option (Health, Benefits, etc). 3. To enter and activate the submenu links, hit the down arrow. You will now be able to tab or arrow up or down through the submenu options to access/activate the submenu links.

Viral Hepatitis

Quick Links

Veterans Crisis Line Badge
My healthevet badge

Commonly used terms in cirrhosis

for Veterans and the Public

Commonly used terms in cirrhosis

These are the medical terms (in alphabetical order) that you may read in this handbook, hear in discussions with your provider, or read in articles about cirrhosis on the Internet or in printed materials.

  • AFP (alpha-fetoprotein): A tumor blood test. High levels of AFP may be a sign of liver cancer.
  • Albumin: Important protein made by the liver. Too little of it in the blood is a sign that the liver is not working well.
  • Ammonia: A by-product of the digestion of protein in the gut that is toxic if not filtered by the liver.
  • Ascites: Fluid in the belly.
  • Asterixis: Flapping movement of the hands that happens when the brain is affected by toxins (like ammonia) that are not being removed by the sick liver.
  • Beta-blockers: Medicines (like propranolol and nadolol) that lower the pressure in the portal vein and reduce the chance of bleeding from varices.
  • Bilirubin: By-product of the body that is removed by the liver. A high level in the blood causes jaundice and is a sign that the liver is not working well.
  • Child-Pugh (or CTP) score: A score that indicates how sick the liver is. Based on this score, there are three Child-Pugh stages: A (when the liver is still working very well); B (when the liver is working so-so); and C (when the liver is working poorly). If you are Child-Pugh B or C, you should be considered for a liver transplant.
  • Cirrhosis: Scarring of the whole liver that makes it shrunken and hard. Cirrhosis is the result of something (like alcohol or a virus) that damages the liver for a long time.
  • Creatinine: Blood test that measures how well your kidneys are working. It can be high when you are taking a dose of diuretics (water pills) that is too high or when your liver is very, very sick.
  • CT (or CAT) scan: A type of X-ray that takes pictures of your liver and can be used to look for liver cancer and other problems such as ascites.
  • Diuretics: Water pills such as spironolactone (Aldactone®) and furosemide (Lasix®) that are used to help the body get rid of ascites and swelling of the legs.
  • Encephalopathy: Changes in brain function that happen when toxic substances (like ammonia) are not filtered by the liver.
  • Endoscopy: A test of your esophagus and stomach in which you will swallow a thin tube with a camera. It is used to look for varices.
  • Esophagus: Tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach.
  • Hemoglobin and hematocrit: These blood tests will be very low if you have internal bleeding.
  • INR (also referred to as prothrombin time): Test that checks how fast your blood clots. When your liver is not working well, your blood takes longer to clot and this test result will be high.
  • Jaundice: When your eyes and skin turn yellow. It is a sign that the liver is not working well. You can also become jaundiced if your bile ducts are blocked.
  • MELD score: A score that is used to rank the urgency for liver transplant. The worse your liver works, the higher your MELD score and the higher your position on the transplant list.
  • MRI: A type of test that takes pictures of your liver and can be used to look for cancers or other problems.
  • Platelets: Particles in the blood that help the blood to clot. The platelet count is low in cirrhosis, and this may be the earliest sign of cirrhosis.
  • Portal hypertension: Increased pressure in the vein that takes blood to the liver. This is the main consequence of having cirrhosis.
  • Portal vein: Vein that takes blood from the intestines to the liver.
  • Prothrombin time (also called INR): Test that measures how fast your blood clots. When your liver is not working well, your blood takes longer to clot and this test result will be high.
  • Sodium and potassium: Electrolytes (pronounced "ee-lek-tro-lights") that must be checked often whenever your health care provider prescribes water pills.
  • Spider angiomas: (Pronounced "an-gee-o-mas.") Tiny veins that look like little red spiders on your face, chest, and arms. They are signs of cirrhosis.
  • Transplant of the liver: Major surgery by which a diseased liver is replaced with a healthy liver.
  • Ultrasound: A type of test that uses sound waves to take pictures of your liver. It is used to look for tumors and other problems.
  • Varices (esophageal, pronounced "ee-sahf-a-gee-ul"): Enlarged veins in the esophagus that can burst open and lead to vomiting blood or having black stool.