The life expectancy of an individual with cirrhosis of the liver will be markedly shorter than the average life expectancy in general. Exactly how much shorter the lifespan is of a patient with a cirrhotic liver depends on what stage of cirrhosis is present. Although cirrhosis is irreversible, abstinence from alcohol can improve the prognosis. Not all cirrhosis of the liver is caused by alcohol consumption, however. In recent years, Hepatitis C has become a leading cause.
To an extent, a healthy liver can repair itself. When the antioxidants in the liver are no longer able to deter free radicals, however, the damaged areas become covered with fibrous scarring. This scarring is irreversible and prevents healthy tissue from forming on the liver. Once diagnosed, patients with cirrhosis should abstain from alcohol. While abstinence from alcohol will not undo the effects of cirrhosis, it can improve the patient's overall prognosis.
Classification: Child-Pugh scale
The best determinant for a liver patient's mortality is measured with her Child-Pugh score. Child-Pugh calculates a patient's standing as compared with other cirrhosis patients. It can also estimate the time left before the patient experiences total liver failure. The results for a number of criterion are assigned numbers, each indicating a specific level of severity. The tallied numbers will then enable physicians to put the patient into one of three categories: Child classes A, B, and C.
Interpreting Child-Pugh class ratings
A Child-Pugh class A rating offers the best-case scenario for a cirrhosis patient, estimating a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years. Child class B patients have enough of a lifespan that they are encouraged to get on a liver transplant list. Child class C patients have the worst prognosis among cirrhotic liver patients, and are estimated to live only one to three years.
Even with medication and abstinence from alcohol and drugs, both Child class A and B liver patients can fall to a class C status. Such a dramatic decline in a patient's health is usually the result of a severe infection or a condition that would require surgery. Ascites, gastrointestinal bleeding and encephalopathy are just some of the complications that can dramatically affect a cirrhosis patient's prognosis.
Treatment for fluid build-up -- termed ascites -- is often controlled by a low-sodium diet and water pills. Gastrointestinal bleeding can be deterred through blood pressure medication. Antibiotics are still a viable option for patients needing to treat most types of infections. For cirrhosis patients who are having difficulty abstaining from drinking alcohol, or those seeking to gain entry onto a transplant list, a physician will require either inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation.