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Cirrhosis: Care Instructions

Normal liver and a liver with cirrhosis.


Cirrhosis occurs when healthy tissue in your liver gets scarred. This keeps the liver from working well. It usually happens after a liver has been inflamed for years.

Cirrhosis is most often caused by alcohol use disorder or hepatitis infection. But there are other causes too. These include medicines and too much fat in the liver. Conditions passed down in families and other disorders can also cause it. In some cases, no cause can be found.

Treatment can't completely fix liver damage. But you may be able to slow or prevent more damage if you don't drink alcohol or take medicines, drugs, or natural health products that harm your liver.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Do not drink any alcohol. It can harm your liver. Talk to your doctor if you need help to stop drinking.
  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Talk to your doctor before you take any other medicines. These include over-the-counter medicines and herbal products.
  • Be careful taking acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). These can sometimes cause more liver damage. Talk with your doctor if you're not sure which medicines are safe.
  • If your cirrhosis causes extra fluid to build up in your body, try not to eat a lot of salt. Use less salt when you cook and at the table. Don't eat fast foods or snack foods with a lot of salt. Extra fluid in your belly, legs, and chest can cause serious problems.
  • Work with your doctor or a dietitian to be sure you eat the right amount of carbohydrate, protein, fat, and sodium (salt). It's very important to choose the best foods for the health of your liver.
  • If your doctor recommends it, limit how much fluid you drink.
  • If your doctor recommends it, get more exercise. Walking is a good choice. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk every day. Try for at least 2½ hours a week. You also may want to swim, bike, or do other activities.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You vomit blood or what looks like coffee grounds.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You feel very sleepy or confused.
  • You have new or worse belly pain.
  • You have a fever.
  • There is a new or increasing yellow tint to your skin or the whites of your eyes.
  • You have any abnormal bleeding, such as:
    • Nosebleeds.
    • Vaginal bleeding that is different (heavier, more frequent, at a different time of the month) than what you are used to.
    • Bloody or black stools, or rectal bleeding.
    • Bloody or pink urine.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You have any problems.
  • Your belly is getting bigger.
  • You are gaining weight.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.