Cirrhosis is an irreversible condition. Treatment goals are to slow the progression of liver damage and reduce the risk of further complications. There are currently no drugs available to treat liver scarring, although researchers are investigating various antifibrotic drugs.
Dietary and Lifestyle Changes
All patients with cirrhosis can benefit from certain types of lifestyle interventions. These include:
- Stop drinking alcohol. It is very important for people with cirrhosis to completely abstain from alcohol.
- Restrict dietary salt. Salt can increase fluid buildup in the body. Eating a variety of foods every day can help you limit the amount of salt you are getting. It is best to eat fresh vegetables and fruits whenever possible and to avoid eating processed foods.
- Eat a healthy diet. People with cirrhosis are typically malnourished and require increased calories and nutrients. (Excess protein, however, can trigger hepatic encephalopathy.) They also need to avoid certain foods, such as raw seafood or shellfish, which carry risks of blood poisoning (septicemia). A dietician can help provide you with dietary guidelines.
- Get vaccinated. Patients with cirrhosis should ask their doctors which vaccinations (such as hepatitis A, hepatitis B, influenza, pneumococcal pneumonia) they need.
- Discuss all medications with your doctor. Before you take any medications, (including nonprescription pain relievers such as acetaminophen), ask your doctor if they are safe for you. Liver damage affects the metabolization of drugs. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen should not be used by patients with cirrhosis as they can worsen the condition and potentially cause kidney failure.
- Inform your doctor of any herbs or supplements you are considering taking. Certain types of herbal remedies (kava, chaparral, kombucha mushroom, mistletoe, pennyroyal, and some traditional Chinese herbs) can increase the risk for liver damage. Although some herbs, such as milk thistle (silymarin) have been studied for possible beneficial effects on liver disease, there is no scientific evidence to show that they can help.
Recognizing Signs of Dangerous Complications
Patients with cirrhosis are susceptible to infections and bleeding, both of which can be life threatening. Contact your doctor’s office or go to the emergency room if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Fever (temperature greater than 101 °F)
- Confusion that is new or suddenly becomes worse
- Vomiting more than once a day
- Rectal bleeding, vomiting blood or blood in the urine
- Abdominal or chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Abdominal swelling or ascites that is new or suddenly becomes worse
- Jaundice (yellowing skin or eyes) that is new or suddenly becomes worse
Review Date: 11/04/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.