The Progression of Liver Disease: Stages and Complications

When an organ performs over 500 essential functions, you can understand why our overall health and life depend on it working well. There are over 100 different liver diseases, and each has the potential to damage the liver and interfere with its ability to function correctly. Even though numerous diseases affect the liver, most progressively damage the liver in similar ways. Within liver disease progression, there are stages and complications those at risk need to know.

Liver Disease Progression in Stages

Some of the causes of liver disease include:

  • Viruses
  • Chronic alcohol abuse
  • Obesity
  • Poor diet
  • Genetics
  • Adverse reaction to medications

Symptoms aren’t typically present until the later stages of the disease. That’s because it can take years for liver disease to progress. Meanwhile, most individuals are unaware they have it. When liver diseases infiltrate a healthy liver, their impact breaks down into 4 stages:

  1. In the first stage, your immune system identifies the liver is under attack and triggers the body’s healing response by causing inflammation of your liver. Without treatment, the immune system continues its response, leading to chronic inflammation.
  2. Stage 2 is where chronic inflammation (hepatitis) begins to damage and scar (fibrosis) the liver. Non-functioning scar tissue eventually starts to replace healthy tissue. As a result, liver functions and blood flow are reduced.
  3. Stage 3 is when you have cirrhosis of your liver which means there is irreversible damage caused by severe liver scarring. At this stage, you may experience more symptoms of liver damage, which include:
    1. Jaundice, weakness, fatigue, appetite and weight loss, abdominal bloating, and edema in your extremities.


Cirrhosis can permanently affect liver function.
  • Stage 4 is when liver failure occurs from your liver no longer being able to function or heal itself.


The Domino Effect of Complications from Liver Disease

Remember the 500-plus life-sustaining jobs of the liver? When liver disease damages the liver to the point where it cannot effectively function, there’s a domino effect of complications.


Liver disease complications, prevention, and risk
  • Portal hypertension and blood vessel abnormalities and damage– While the heart pumps blood at the same rate into all the organs, the damaged liver cannot keep up with the demand. The high pressure in and slow pressure out increases the pressure in the portal vein from your intestines and spleen to your liver. This can lead to enlarged and abnormal blood vessels that are more likely to burst.
  • Ascites– Severe liver disease can lead to excess fluid in the body. Ascites occur when fluid collects in your belly, which can be severely painful.
  • Kidney disease or failure
  • You bruise easily and have more bleeding with cuts and other injuries– This happens when the liver can’t make the proteins necessary for your blood to clot.
  • Liver cancer


Liver Treatment Options are Limited, and That’s Not Acceptable.

Nearly 5 million adults are living with liver disease in the U.S. Despite this, liver diseases are currently managed through healthy lifestyle changes, regular monitoring, and medications and other therapies to reduce symptoms. This is unacceptable. Now, a growing number of scientists, researchers, pharmaceutical companies, and other health officials have taken action in joining the race to advance options for liver disease.

Upcoming liver disease clinical trials in Miami

Clinical Pharmacology of Miami is looking for individuals with liver disease to join upcoming studies evaluating potential new options. As a clinical research volunteer, you can help our mission of advancing care options for liver diseases and other chronic conditions. To see if you qualify, visit our studies webpage, or contact us at (305) 817-2900!