Each year, more than 25 million Americans are afflicted with liver and gallbladder diseases and more than 26,000 die of chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis. Although some liver diseases are congenital, many are the result of avoidable damage. The following changes in habit or lifestyle can protect the liver and reduce the chances of developing liver disease:
Avoid taking medications unnecessarily.
Inform yourself about your medications and their possible connection with liver damage.
Be cautious about mixing several drugs. Alcohol, especially, does not mix well with many medications.
Limit alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks a day.
Avoid exposure to industrial chemicals.
Maintain a healthy, balanced diet.
Consult your physician if you observe any signs or symptoms of liver disease.
Consider vaccination against hepatitis B.
Do not share needles with anyone.
Practice safe sex to minimize the risk of exposure to hepatitis B.
Do not share toothbrushes or razors.
If you are pregnant, make sure you are tested for hepatitis B and C.
Except for liver transplants, there are few effective treatments for most life-threatening liver diseases.
Liver damage from cirrhosis cannot be reversed, but its progression can be stopped or slowed and suffering from complications can be reduced. The cause of cirrhosis and the nature of any complications will determine the exact course of treatment, but it will likely include a strict diet, diuretics, vitamins, and the altering of liver-damaging conditions. For example, cirrhosis caused by alcohol abuse is necessarily treated by requiring the patient to stop drinking. Treatment for hepatitis-related cirrhosis involves medications used to treat the different types of hepatitis, such as interferon for viral hepatitis and corticosteroids for autoimmune hepatitis. Cirrhosis caused by Wilson's disease, in which copper builds up in organs, is treated with medications to remove the copper. Following a healthy diet and avoiding alcohol are essential in all cases, for obvious reasons.
Complications from liver damage must be treated as needed:
A low sodium diet and/or diuretics may be prescribed for ascites and edema.
Antibiotics will be prescribed for infections.
Various medications can help with itching.
A reduced-protein diet can help decrease the buildup of toxins in the blood and brain.
Laxatives can help absorb toxins and remove them from the intestines.
Blood pressure medication can relieve portal hypertension
A clotting agent may be prescribed for bleeding varices, or the doctor may perform a rubber-band ligation, which uses a special device to compress the varices and thus stop the bleeding.
A liver transplant (the removal of a diseased liver and its replacement with a healthy one from an organ donor) may become necessary when complications cannot be controlled or when the damage is so extensive that liver failure, and thus death, is likely.
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