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Cirrhosis - Treatment Overview

No treatment will cure cirrhosis or repair scarring in the liver that has already occurred. But treatment can sometimes prevent or delay further liver damage. Treatment involves lifestyle changes, medicines, and regular doctor visits. In some cases, you may need surgery for treatment of complications from cirrhosis.

Lifestyle changes

Your doctor will recommend some lifestyle changes to help prevent further liver damage.

  • Stop drinking alcohol. You need to quit completely.
  • Talk to your doctor about all of the medicines you take, including nonprescription drugs such as acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol), aspirin, ibuprofen (for example, Advil or Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve). These could increase the risk of liver damage and bleeding.
  • Get immunized (if you have not already) against hepatitis A(What is a PDF document?) and hepatitis B(What is a PDF document?), influenza, and pneumococcus(What is a PDF document?).
  • Begin following a low-sodium diet if you have fluid buildup (ascites). Reducing your sodium intake can help prevent fluid buildup in your belly and chest.

Treatment for complications of cirrhosis

Cirrhosis can cause other problems (complications) that need treatment with medicines or procedures. Complications include:

  • Fluid buildup in the belly (ascites). It can be deadly if it is not controlled. Treatment can include:
  • Bleeding from enlarged veins.Variceal bleeding in the digestive tract can be treated with:
  • Changes in mental function.Encephalopathy may occur when the liver cannot filter poisons from the bloodstream. As these toxins build up in your blood, they can affect your brain function. You may need to:
    • Eat a limited amount of protein. Too much protein can cause toxins to build up.
    • Take lactulose. This medicine helps prevent the buildup of ammonia and other toxins in the large intestine.
    • Avoid sedative medicines, such as sleeping pills, antianxiety medicines, and narcotics. These can make symptoms of encephalopathy worse.

Follow-up visits

It's important to work with your doctor to watch your condition, especially because symptoms may not start until a problem has become severe. In addition to regular checkups and lab tests, you will also need periodic screening for enlarged veins (varices) and liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma).

  • The American College of Gastroenterology recommends testing for varices with endoscopy for all people who have been diagnosed with cirrhosis. If your initial test does not find any varices, you can be tested again in 2 to 3 years. If you already have large varices, you may need more frequent testing and treatment with beta-blocker medicines to try to prevent future bleeding episodes.1
  • Testing to check for liver cancer usually takes place every 6 months. You will likely have a test for alpha-fetoprotein and a liver ultrasound or a magnetic resonance imaging test (MRI).
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 17, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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