A risk factor is something that raises the chances of getting a health problem. A person can get cirrhosis with or without the ones listed below. The chances of getting it are greater in people who have many.

Risk factors for cirrhosis are:

Drinking Excess Amounts of Alcohol

Alcohol is toxic to liver cells. It damages the liver by changing how the body breaks down food. Drinking excess amounts of alcohol over a long period of time raises the risk of cirrhosis.

People who have alcohol use disorder often have poor diets. This can also lead to cirrhosis.

Health Problems

Hepatitis Infection

Hepatitis infections are caused by viruses that are spread from exposure to the body fluids of an infected person. Some infections go away on their own. Others may last a long time and lead to liver inflammation and injury. Over time, this can lead to cirrhosis.

Common types are:

  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
  • Hepatitis D —only infects people who are already infected with hepatitis B

Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a buildup of fat in the liver that is not caused by drinking alcohol. It can lead to a type of NAFLD called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). This can lead to cirrhosis. This type of hepatitis is associated with:

Bile Duct Diseases

Health problems that damage the bile ducts can cause bile to back up and damage liver tissue. This can lead to cirrhosis. Some of these health problems in adults are:

  • Primary biliary cirrhosis
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis
  • Gallstones
  • Pancreatitis
  • Injuries from gallbladder surgery

In infants, blocked bile ducts may happen due to biliary atresia. This is when the bile ducts are injured or missing at birth.

Hepatic Congestion

Health problems like heart failure or constrictive pericarditis can cause congestion in the liver. Over time, this can lead to scarring.

Inherited Disorders

Some inherited disorders cause problems with the way the liver works. This can lead to liver damage. Some of these health problems are:

  • Hemochromatosis —causes the body to absorb and store too much iron
  • Wilson disease —causes the body to absorb excess copper
  • Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency—the body is lacking a protein made in the liver that is needed to block certain enzymes
  • Galactosemia—the body cannot process and make energy from a sugar called galactose, causing it to build up in the body
  • Glycogen storage diseases—the body lacks one or more enzymes needed to break down a sugar called glycogen, causing it to build up in the liver
  • Cystic fibrosis—the body makes a thick and sticky mucus that can damage the liver
  • Budd-Chiari syndrome—blood clots fully or partially block blood flow from the liver

Autoimmune Hepatitis

This health problem happens when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy liver cells.

Other Factors

Other health problems that can damage the liver are:

  • A severe reaction to prescription drugs, such as isoniazid and methotrexate
  • Long term exposure to toxins, such as arsenic
  • Repeat episodes of heart failure with liver congestion
  • Schistosomiasis—a parasitic infection

Autoimmune hepatitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/autoimmune-hepatitis. Accessed January 6, 2021.

Cirrhosis. American Liver Foundation website. Available at: http://www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/cirrhosis. Accessed January 6, 2021.

Cirrhosis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/cirrhosis. Accessed January 6, 2021.

Cirrhosis of the liver. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/cirrhosis-of-the-liver-31. Accessed January 6, 2021.

Ge PS, Runyon BA. Treatment of Patients with Cirrhosis. N Engl J Med. 2016 Aug 25;375(8):767-777.

What is viral hepatitis? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/abc/index.htm. Accessed January 8, 2021.

Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD  Last Updated: 1/8/2021