Lifestyle changes may reduce symptoms caused by complications of the disease and may slow new liver damage.
Giving up alcohol
If you are diagnosed with cirrhosis, it is extremely important that you stop drinking alcohol completely, even if alcohol was not the cause of your cirrhosis. If you don't stop, liver damage may quickly become worse. For information about how to quit drinking, see Alcohol Abuse and Dependence.
Changing your diet
You may need to limit the amount of salt or protein you eat.
If your body is retaining fluid, the most important dietary change you need to make is to reduce your sodium intake. You do this by reducing the amount of salt in your diet. People with liver damage tend to retain sodium. This can make fluid build up in your belly (ascites).
If you are at risk for altered mental function (encephalopathy) because of advanced liver disease, your doctor may want you to limit the amount of protein you eat for a while. You will still need protein in your diet to be well nourished. But you may need to get most of your protein from vegetable sources (rather than animal sources). And you may need to avoid eating large amounts of protein at one time.
Avoiding harmful medicines
Some medicines should be used carefully or not taken by people who have cirrhosis. For example, acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) can speed up liver damage. Aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)-for example, ibuprofen (such as Motrin or Advil) and naproxen (Aleve)-increase the risk of variceal bleeding if you have enlarged veins (varices) in the digestive tract. NSAIDs can also raise your risk for ascites. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about what medicines are safe for you.
Certain prescription medicines used to treat other conditions may be harmful if you have cirrhosis. Make sure your doctor knows all the medicines (including all nonprescription medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements) that you are taking.
Improving your general health
Taking other steps to improve your overall health may help you cope with the symptoms of cirrhosis.
- Stop smoking. Quitting tobacco use will improve your overall health, which may help make you a better candidate for a liver transplant if you need one.
- Your doctor may encourage you to take a multivitamin. Don't take one containing extra iron unless your doctor tells you to. And don't take an iron supplement unless your doctor recommends it.
- Brush and floss your teeth daily to avoid dental problems that could lead to infection (abscess). Be gentle when you floss so you don't make your gums bleed.
- Make sure you have been vaccinated against:
- Influenza (flu). Get a flu shot every year. People with cirrhosis are at increased risk for serious complications from the flu.
- Hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
- Pneumococcus(What is a PDF document?), which can cause pneumonia or abdominal infection (peritonitis). Ask your doctor how often you should be revaccinated.
Using complementary and alternative medicines wisely
Limited research has shown that the herbal supplement milk thistle may help protect the liver, but other research has not shown a benefit.2Milk thistle will not reverse existing liver damage, and it will not cure infection with the hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus. Milk thistle should not be used by people who have complications from cirrhosis (such as variceal bleeding or ascites). Talk to your doctor about whether you should try milk thistle (or any other alternative treatment).