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Understanding Treatment for Cirrhosis

What Are the Treatments for Cirrhosis? continued...

For Wilson's disease, doctors generally prescribe medications that rid the body of accumulated copper. It may be necessary to continue these drugs for life. In the case of hemochromatosis, the best way to dispose of excess iron is to draw blood from the patient once or twice a week. This may be kept up for as long as two years, or until the iron level reaches its normal range. Treatment then continues every two to four months.

Severe cirrhosis may require a liver transplant, a serious procedure usually regarded as a last resort. Transplants are not appropriate for everyone: Some patients are too old, too young, or too sick for the procedure. And people whose cirrhosis is due to alcohol abuse must demonstrate a prolonged period of abstinence before the operation. Doctors generally are hesitant to transplant a liver if the patient is just going to abuse it.

As with any form of major surgery, liver transplants can be risky. The new liver may not function properly, or the body may reject the transplanted organ. There's also the danger that infection will set in after surgery. Still, the procedure has a promising success rate overall. About 6,000 liver transplants are performed in the U.S. annually. Survival rates improve each year because of drugs to prevent infection and suppress rejection. Almost 80% of liver transplant patients are still alive five years after their surgery.

Good nutrition often plays a vital role in the treatment of cirrhosis. Although parts of the liver that have given way to scar tissue can't be restored, a balanced diet, including plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains, milk, and protein, can help promote regeneration among cells in the intact portion. Adults with the disease need to monitor their intake of protein. Too little protein can slow cell regeneration, and too much can raise the amount of ammonia in your bloodstream, possibly leading to mental impairment. Check with a doctor or nutritionist for the amount of protein that's right for you.

Because the liver must filter and refine substances that are introduced into the body, patients with cirrhosis are often told to seek medical advice before taking large doses of vitamins or other dietary supplements. Cirrhosis patients should also avoid eating uncooked shellfish, which are sometimes harvested in polluted waters and may carry organisms that cause hepatitis or other disease.

Cirrhosis can lead to liver cancer. Screening the liver for liver cancer is recommended by performing an ultrasound every six to 12 months.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on March 01, 2015
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