Lifestyle changes cannot cure cirrhosis, but they can help to delay or stop progression of the disease, reduce the severity of symptoms, and help prevent complications.

General Guidelines for Managing Cirrhosis

Avoid Drinking Alcohol

At least 75%-80% of cirrhosis cases in North America are related to alcohol abuse. Abstaining from alcohol helps to stop liver damage. In some cases, the liver may repair some of the damage, which can help reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Eat a Balanced Diet

An appropriate diet can help your liver tissues regenerate and can reduce the severity of symptoms in more advanced disease. To reduce the chances of infection, you may be advised to avoid raw seafood and dishes that contain raw seafood, such as sushi. Raw fish can be contaminated with hepatitis A, as well as other viruses, bacteria, and parasites, which could further stress liver function.

In the early stages of recovery, you may be advised to eat more calories and protein than you are used to. Adequate amounts of amino acids (from proteins) and other nutrients are necessary to regenerate liver tissue.

You may also be advised to take a vitamin and mineral supplement. This can help correct deficiencies that may have developed from cirrhosis itself or from changes in your normal eating pattern that resulted from your disease.

Supplements and supplemental nutritional beverages also may help support tissue growth and repair, but don’t take any without your doctor’s knowledge and approval.

Certain vitamins and minerals may be problematic. Avoid taking excessive amounts of vitamins A and D, and try to avoid foods that have been supplemented with iron.

In some cases, a salt-restricted diet may be necessary. Salt (sodium) contributes to fluid retention, and restricting salt can help alleviate fluid-related swelling in the abdomen and legs.

If your disease is advanced, you may be placed on a protein-restricted diet. Decreasing the amount of protein you eat helps reduce the production of nitrogen-containing wastes (ammonia). In a severely damaged liver, detoxification of ammonia is impaired, which can lead to high blood levels of ammonia. These, in turn, can produce mental changes (encephalopathy) and eventually can lead to coma and death.

Get Your Doctor’s Approval for All Medications

Do not take any medication, including over-the-counter drugs, without your doctor’s approval.

The liver is responsible for metabolizing medications; when your liver is damaged because of cirrhosis, drug metabolism may be altered. Dangerously high levels of medicines can remain in your blood and interfere with drugs you may be taking to treat cirrhosis. Always get your doctor’s approval before taking any medication. Even drugs that seem relatively harmless, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be dangerous in some circumstances.

Get Vaccines for Flu, Pneumonia, and Hepatitis

You should be vaccinated for flu, pneumonia, and hepatitis. Vaccinations will help reduce your likelihood of becoming infected and help reduce the severity of disease if you do become infected.

Put Your Feet Up to Reduce Swelling

Gravity helps to pull fluid down into your feet and legs. Sit down, relax, and put up your feet. This will help reduce the swelling and relieve some of the pain in swollen legs and feet.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Contact your doctor if:

  • You need help with alcohol cessation
  • You need help planning an appropriate diet or if you have questions about a specific food or supplement
  • You have questions about a certain medication or over-the-counter product
  • You have questions about whether you should receive vaccines
  • Swelling in your feet and legs is severe or is not alleviated by elevating them