What Are the Treatments for Cirrhosis?

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on April 21, 2021

Cirrhosis isn't curable, but it’s treatable. Doctors have two main goals in treating this disease: Stop the damage to your liver, and prevent complications.

Alcohol abuse, hepatitis, and fatty liver disease are some of the main causes. Your doctor will personalize your treatment based on what caused your cirrhosis, and the amount of liver damage you have.

Your liver breaks down and removes toxins from your body. Alcohol is a toxin. When you drink too much, your liver has to work extra hard to process it.

To protect your liver, you must stop drinking. That can be hard to do, especially if you've become dependent on alcohol. Ask your doctor about things you can try that may help you stop drinking, such as:

Get more information on treatments for alcohol use disorder.

NASH is nonalcoholic steatohepatitis which is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). It can cause liver scarring and lead to cirrhosis. While there is no medication to reverse the fatty buildup, controlling the conditions that may contribute to it can help stop the liver damage. In some cases, the liver damage has been known to reverse itself

You doctor may suggest vitamin E or pioglitazone to help. Vitamin E  alone is often perscribed for people who have NASH and don't have diabetes or cirrhosis.

Hepatitis B and C viruses cause liver damage that can lead to cirrhosis. Treatments for these diseases can help prevent liver damage. For hepatitis C, there are now antiviral treatments that lead to a cure in the vast majority of people.

Options include:

  • Antiviral drugs. These attack the hepatitis virus. Which drug you get depends on the type of hepatitis you have. The most common side effects from these medicines are weakness, headache, nausea, and sleep problems.
  • Interferon (interferon alpha 2b, pegylated interferon). This helps your immune system fight off the hepatitis virus. Side effects can include trouble breathing, dizziness, weight changes, and depression. Interferon is not used often to treat hepatitis C since it can be cured with antiviral medications.

Learn more about the different treatment options for hepatitis C.

This is a buildup of fat that damages the liver. You can get it if you're overweight or obese. The way to combat this cause of liver damage is to lose weight with diet and exercise. With any liver disease, it is important to not drink alcohol and, in some cases, avoid taking vitamin E. Find out how you can reverse or control non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

In both of these diseases, your body’s natural defense system (immune system) attacks and damages your liver. Primary biliary cirrhosis destroys the bile duct -- the tube that carries the digestive fluid (bile) from the liver to the gallbladder and intestine.

Doctors treat autoimmune hepatitis with steroid drugs and other medicines that stop the immune system from attacking the liver. Side effects may include weight gain, diabetes, weak bones, and high blood pressure.

The main treatment for primary biliary cirrhosis is to slow liver damage with the drug ursodiol (Actigall, Urso). Ursodiol can cause side effects like diarrhea, constipation, dizziness, and back pain. Know more about the treatment options for primary biliary cirrhosis.

Cirrhosis damage can prevent your liver from doing important jobs like removing toxins from your body and helping you digest foods. It can lead to problems like these:

  • Portal hypertension. Scars in the liver block blood flow through the portal vein. This is the main blood vessel to the liver. This backup of blood increases pressure in the portal vein, as well as in the system of veins that connect to it. Increased blood pressure makes these vessels swell up. High blood pressure drugs called beta-blockers lower pressure in the portal vein and other blood vessels so they don't swell to the point of breaking.
  • Varices. These are swollen blood vessels caused by blocked blood flow. They’re usually found in the esophagus and stomach. They can stretch so much that they eventually break open and bleed. Your doctor can tie a special rubber band around the varices to stop the bleeding. This procedure is called band ligation. A surgery called TIPS is sometimes needed to “shunt” -- meaning redirect -- the blood flow.
  • Fluid buildup. Increased pressure in the portal vein and reduced liver function can cause fluid to build up in your belly. This is called ascites. Your doctor can prescribe medicines called diuretics to help your body get rid of the extra fluid. You might also need antibiotics to prevent bacteria from growing in it and causing an infection. Your doctor can do a procedure to remove fluid from your belly or relieve pressure in your portal vein.
  • Liver cancer. Cirrhosis increases your risk for liver cancer. You'll get blood tests or an ultrasound every 6 to 12 months to look for cancer. If you do get liver cancer, the main treatments are surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.
  • Hepatic encephalopathy. A heavily scarred liver can't remove toxins from your body. These toxins can build up in your blood and damage your brain, leading to memory loss and trouble thinking. To prevent this complication, your doctor will give you medicines to lower the amount of toxins in your blood.

Cirrhosis can damage your liver to the point where it no longer works. This is called liver failure. A transplant means your damaged liver is replaced with a healthy one from a donor. You can wait on an organ transplant list for a deceased donor, or get part of a liver from a living friend or family member.

It can help you live longer, but it's major surgery that comes with risks like bleeding and infection. After surgery, you'll need to take medicines to prevent your body from rejecting the new organ. Because these drugs suppress your immune system, they can increase your risk for infection. Get more information on what you should know about liver transplantation.

To keep your liver as healthy as possible, make a few changes to your lifestyle:

  • Eat a liver-friendly diet. Cirrhosis can rob your body of nutrients and weaken your muscles. To combat these effects, eat lots of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and lean protein from poultry or fish. Avoid oysters and other raw shellfish, because they contain bacteria that could cause an infection. Also, limit salt, which increases fluid buildup in your body.
  • Get vaccinated. Cirrhosis and its treatments weaken your immune system and make it harder to fight off infections. Protect yourself by getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, the flu, and pneumonia.
  • Be careful when you take medicine. Cirrhosis damage makes it harder for your liver to process and remove medicines. Ask your doctor before you take any over-the-counter drug, including herbal remedies. Be very cautious about medicines that can cause liver damage, like acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Show Sources


American College of Gastroenterology: "Ascites."

American Liver Foundation: "Alcohol-Related Liver Disease," "Autoimmune Hepatitis," "Medication Regimens According to HCV Genotype."

FDA: "Hepatitis B and C Treatments."

Mayo Clinic: "Cirrhosis: Symptoms and Causes," "Cirrhosis: Treatment," "Hepatitis B: Treatments and drugs," "Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: Overview," "Primary biliary cirrhosis: Definition," "Ursodiol (Oral Route): Side Effects."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Cirrhosis," "Primary Biliary Cirrhosis."

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: "Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help."

National Health Service (U.K.): "Cirrhosis - Causes," "Treating Cirrhosis."

National Organization for Rare Disorders: "Hepatic Encephalopathy."

UpToDate: "Cirrhosis: Self-management," "Patient education: Cirrhosis (Beyond the Basics)."

U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Interferon Alfa-2b Injection."

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