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.
Alcohol Abuse Treatment
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:
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.
- 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.
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Treatments
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.
Treatments for Autoimmune Hepatitis and Primary Biliary Cirrhosis
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.
Treatments for Cirrhosis Complications
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.
How to Stay Healthy with Cirrhosis
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).