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Cirrhosis - Treatment Overview

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).

Liver transplant

Receiving a liver from an organ donor (liver transplant) is the only treatment that will restore normal liver function and cure portal hypertension. A liver transplant is usually considered only when liver damage is severe and threatening your life.

Before your condition becomes severe, you may want to talk to your doctor about whether you will be a good candidate for a liver transplant if your disease becomes advanced.

Liver transplant surgery is very expensive. You may have to wait a long time for a transplant, because so few organs are available. Even if a transplant occurs, it may not work. With these things in mind, doctors must decide who will benefit most from receiving a liver. Good candidates include those who have not abused alcohol or illegal drugs for the previous 6 months and those who have a good support system of family and friends.

Talk to your doctor about what steps you can take now to improve your overall health so that you can increase your chances of being considered a good candidate.

Palliative care

If your cirrhosis gets worse, you may want to think about palliative care. This is a kind of care for people who have illnesses that do not go away and often get worse over time. Palliative care focuses on improving your quality of life—not just in your body but also in your mind and spirit.

For more information, see the topic Palliative Care.

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