Cirrhosis Treatment

No cure exists for cirrhosis. Damage caused by scarring cannot be reversed. However, the progression of the disease can be halted. Treatment varies according to the cause of the cirrhosis. No matter what the cause, a damaged liver requires changes in lifestyle, eating habits and personal health care.

Emergency Symptoms

If you suffer from cirrhosis, seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • blood in vomit or repeated vomiting
  • sudden weight gain
  • black or bloody stools
  • confusion, memory loss, tremors or slurred speech
  • signs of infection
  • difficulty breathing.

Alcoholic Cirrhosis

The treatment for alcoholic cirrhosis is deceptively simple: abstain from drinking alcohol. Abstaining from all alcohol consumption is necessary to prevent further liver damage; even the minute amounts of alcohol found in some medications can further attack a badly damaged liver.

Seeking help from one of the many alcoholism support groups or personal counseling are often essential components of an alcohol rehabilitation program.

Vitamin B Deficiency and Nutritional Needs

A damaged liver cannot process and use vitamins and minerals well. For this reason, many people who suffer from cirrhosis have a vitamin B deficiency or an iron deficiency called anemia. They may also lack other essential nutrients.

Vitamin supplements can correct a vitamin B deficiency, and iron supplements can correct anemia. Consult your doctor before beginning any nutritional supplements: a damaged liver can react negatively to excessive amounts of vitamins, so dietary supplementation requires careful monitoring.

Treating Hepatitis C: Alpha Interferon and Pegasys

Patients with chronic hepatitis C require treatment to prevent the liver inflammation that causes cirrhosis. This is often provided through a synthetic version of alpha interferon. The body produces alpha interferon in response to viral infections. Synthetic interferon medications duplicate natural interferon’s ability to fight viruses.

Pegasys® (peginterferon alpha 2-a) is a second-generation “pegylated” interferon medication designed to be long acting. Pegasys provides a constant level of interferon in the body, and is administered only once a week. Both interferon and peginterferon medications are often used in combination with the oral antiviral medication ribavirin. Ribavirin alone does little to treat hepatitis C, but works well with interferon.

Treating Secondary Complications: Ascites and Encephalopathy

Cirrhosis complications can be serious and often require additional treatment. If you suffer from hepatic encephalopathy — the buildup of toxins in the brain due to liver dysfunction — the medication lactulose may be prescribed to reduce the number of ammonia-producing bacteria in the intestine. This reduces the overall toxin levels in the body.

Diuretics may be prescribed if you experience ascites, or the retention of fluid in the abdomen. Ascites fluid can become infected by intestinal bacteria. If infection occurs, antibiotics will be required.

Liver Transplant

An organ transplant may be necessary if the original liver is too damaged to continue functioning. Liver transplants are quite successful: over 90 percent of people who receive a new liver survive. However, limited organs are available for transplant, and unless the original cause of the cirrhosis is treated, the new liver may also be damaged. For this reason, people suffering from alcoholic cirrhosis must often prove they are undergoing treatment for alcoholism before they will be considered for a transplant.

Resources

Beers, M. H.,