Hepatitis B or C, heavy drinking, and other causes can lead to long-term damage to your liver. Two terms used to describe this are fibrosis and cirrhosis.
Fibrosis means that healthy liver tissue is starting to be replaced by scar tissue, hardening the liver and interfering with its functions. Fibrosis progresses over time in people with hepatitis B or hepatitis C, and this tends to happen faster in people who also have HIV. Fibrosis can be partially reversed if the cause is identified and dealt with early enough.
Cirrhosis is severe scarring of the liver. Scar tissue replaces the cells that carry out the liver's normal functions and can block the flow of blood through the liver. If it progresses too far, the liver will no longer be able to work properly, possibly leading to problems such as internal bleeding and brain impairment. Liver damage is often permanent at this stage, but sometimes treatment can restore some lost function.
Liver fibrosis and cirrhosis are classified according to stages:
- F0 – no fibrosis
- F1 – mild fibrosis
- F2 – moderate fibrosis
- F3 – advanced fibrosis
- F4 – cirrhosis.
People with advanced fibrosis or cirrhosis are at higher risk of developing a type of liver cancer known as hepatocellular carcinoma. Liver cancer is hard to detect early and difficult to treat.