Health Concerns

Cirrhosis and Liver Disease

Treatment Of Liver Disease

The treatment goal with regard to the liver is to prevent liver disease and, if diagnosed, to stop its progression toward cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is an end-stage disease with a poor prognosis and can require a liver transplant if liver failure occurs. Thus, lifestyle changes that support liver health, especially abstention from alcohol, are the cornerstone of treatment for liver disease. No matter the cause of cirrhosis, alcohol aggravates the condition and should be avoided.

In addition, physicians will attempt to treat the complications of cirrhosis, including portal hypertension and ascites, with various medications. In general, however, the use of medications must be approached with caution in people with liver disease because the liver metabolizes many of these substances. For example, aspirin should be avoided in patients with cirrhosis because of its effects on coagulation and the gastric mucosa (Kasper 2005). The following conventional medicines are often prescribed to treat cirrhosis or fibrotic liver disease:

  • Corticosteroids. These drugs have been shown to reduce the inflammation that characterizes liver disease. While they may be helpful to patients with alcoholic hepatitis and encephalopathy, they are less helpful to patients with alcoholic cirrhosis (Kasper 2005; Glanze 1996; Mathurin 2002).
  • Ursodiol. Among people with biliary cirrhosis, this drug replaces lost biliary acids. Side effects are rare. This drug may not halt progression of the disease (Kasper 2005).

What You Have Learned So Far

  • The liver is the largest internal organ. It filters the blood from the digestive system, metabolizing toxins and monitoring nutrients such as glucose and cholesterol.
  • Liver disease often develops over years, without obvious symptoms. Many people are diagnosed with liver disease after abnormalities are detected during routine blood tests.
  • Cirrhosis occurs when the liver is inflamed and scar tissue forms. It is irreversible; thus prevention of liver disease is ideal. Cirrhosis can be caused by alcohol consumption, hepatitis, right-sided heart failure, and other conditions.
  • Antioxidants, which neutralize the toxins processed by the liver, are an important element in liver health.
  • Treatment of liver disease is limited because many drugs are metabolized by the liver; thus only a few drugs, including corticosteroids, which have significant side effects, are routinely used to treat liver disease.