What steps can I take to stay healthy?
By reading this booklet you’re already taking steps toward taking better care of your health. There are many other steps you can take to stay healthy. Here are a few:
- Stay connected to your healthcare provider. They can help you understand your condition and manage symptoms and complications. They may also help connect you to supports in your community.
- Try to avoid or cut back on smoking, alcohol and street drugs. These are all hard on your liver, increase liver damage and may make your cirrhosis progress faster. For example, cigarettes have many toxins and carcinogens (chemicals that can cause cancer) in them and these get in your blood when you smoke. When you have cirrhosis your liver doesn’t work as effectively to clear the cigarette toxins from your blood. This increases the risk of further injury to your liver. If you’re finding it hard to avoid tobacco, alcohol or street drugs, start by trying to change how much you’re using and how you use. For example, reduce the number of drinks you have in a day. Making changes like this may also mean making changes to your social life. Talk to your healthcare provider about getting help and support.
- Eat as well as you can. Healthy nutrition is a big part of taking care of your liver. Start by talking to your healthcare provider about any special dietary needs you may have. If you have severe hepatic encephalopathy you may have to cut down the amount of protein you eat to reduce levels of the toxin ammonia in your body. It’s important to keep in mind that although too much protein can lead to problems, too little can lead to malnutrition. Talk to your healthcare provider about finding the right balance and eating enough calories in general. There are also other steps you can take; for example, salt can contribute to high blood pressure, so it’s good to reduce the amount of salt in your diet.
- Eating well can be hard when you have limited resources; take the steps you can. Read food labels and try to choose options with less salt (called sodium) or less sugar (called simple carbohydrates). Also try to eat more fruits and vegetables. Many community health centres and community organizations have staff, such as dieticians and nutritionists, whom you can talk to about your options.
- Protect yourself from other viruses. Having more than one virus can make your liver damage worse. You can get vaccines to prevent hepatitis A and B and influenza. Talk to your healthcare provider about your options. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C or HIV, but you can take steps to avoid getting these infections.
- If you’re using street drugs, use new equipment each time and don’t share your supplies, such as pipes, syringes, needles, filters, cookers, vitamin C powder or citric acid, alcohol swabs, ties or tourniquets and water. This will reduce your risk of passing on viruses or getting re-infected if you’ve already gone through treatment.
- Keep track of the prescription and non-prescription medicines you are taking, including herbal medicines, vitamins and supplements. Some medicines can be very hard on your liver. If you can, bring a list of what you are taking (or bring all the bottles) and have your doctor or pharmacist check for any potential problems.
- Talk to your healthcare provider about which painkillers are safe to use. This includes drugs like acetaminophen (Tylenol), Aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil).
- Take care of yourself by trying to get regular exercise, drinking enough water and getting enough sleep.
- Talk about your feelings with someone you trust. Living with a chronic condition like cirrhosis can be stressful. Many people find it helpful to share their emotions with someone.