for Veterans and the Public
What happens when you have cirrhosis?
Because the liver becomes lumpy and stiff in cirrhosis, blood cannot flow through it easily, so pressure builds up in the vein that brings blood to the liver. This vein is called the portal vein. When pressure is high in the portal vein, the condition is called portal hypertension. In order to relieve this pressure, the blood passes through other veins. Some of these veins, called varices, can be found in the pipe that carries food from your mouth to your stomach (the esophagus) or in your stomach itself.
When you have cirrhosis, the high pressure in the portal vein backs up into another organ called the spleen, which gets big and destroys more platelets than usual. Platelets are blood particles that help with blood clotting.
When you have cirrhosis, entrance of blood to the liver is blocked and substances such as ammonia that would normally be cleaned by the liver, escape into the general circulation.
Aside from the problems with liver blood flow, when cirrhosis is advanced there aren't enough healthy worker cells to get all the work done, so these cells cannot make the good substances such as albumin and clotting factors that the liver normally makes.
Liver cancer, called hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) can also occur in cirrhosis when some of the sick liver cells start to multiply out of control.