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What will your health care provider do about cirrhosis?

for Veterans and the Public

What will your health care provider do about cirrhosis?

People with cirrhosis need to see a health care provider from time to time. If you have compensated cirrhosis, these visits may be scheduled every year or even as often as every 3 to 6 months. These visits will let your provider watch for the development of complications. The provider can order the screening tests that can catch these complications early. Then they can be treated or even delayed.

If you have decompensated cirrhosis, you may need to see your provider more often so that the complications that have developed already can be managed well.

People with cirrhosis have to have an upper endoscopy (pronounced "en-dahs-cup-ee") from time to time. This is a test in which you swallow a thin tube with a camera so that your provider can look for varices in the esophagus (food tube) and the stomach. If you have no varices, the endoscopy will be repeated every few years to see whether they show up. If you have large varices, you will get treatment to reduce the chance of bleeding.

Graphic of jaundice

You also will have a blood test and an ultrasound (or sometimes a CAT scan or an MRI) to look for signs of liver cancer and to check for ascites. It is important for your health care provider to look for cancer on a regular basis. If the cancer is caught early, there are often ways to treat it. If fluid (ascites) is found in your belly, medications (for example, water pills) and changes in your diet (like a low-salt diet) may help control this fluid. If these methods stop working, you can have a procedure called paracentesis (pronounced "para-sen-tee-sis"). This procedure is used when your belly gets large and hard, which may happen every so often. You will go to a special procedures department where a trained provider will empty your belly of fluid using a special needle.

If you have developed decompensated cirrhosis, your provider may discuss the need for you to be considered for a liver transplant. You will want a health care provider who really knows you and can help you to decide if a transplant is right for you. Your provider will help you find out if your body can tolerate this operation, and, if it can, help you and your loved ones get ready for the transplant procedure.