- Your liver can repair itself
- Making some changes can reverse a lot of liver damage and avoid serious problems in future
- To protect your liver:
- make sure you are a healthy weight
- eat a balanced diet
- cut down on highly processed foods and drinks (sweets, soft drinks, pizza and chips) and foods that have a lot of sugar
- move more
- look after high blood pressure and cholesterol
- reduce further harm to your liver by not drinking alcohol
The liver is an amazing organ. It’s the only organ in the body that can repair itself by creating new tissue. If you take care of it, and make some changes to the way you live, eat and drink, you can reverse a lot of damage and avoid serious complications in future.
Liver damage happens when there is inflammation, which leads to scarring (fibrosis) and then cirrhosis. This takes many years. The earlier you find the problem and remove the cause of the liver damage, the better the chances of your liver healing.
Sometimes liver damage can be caused by a virus or autoimmune condition. There are effective treatments for these conditions.
It’s never too late. See your doctor and follow a healthy lifestyle to reduce inflammation, reverse scarring and improve how your liver works.
How does liver damage happen?
There are different stages to liver damage.
First comes inflammation. This is called hepatitis. It can be caused by many things including viruses, problems with metabolism, drinking too much alcohol, or having an autoimmune condition.
Next comes fibrosis. When the liver is inflamed for a long time, the cells try to repair themselves by producing collagen. This makes the cells in the liver stiffer. Eventually collagen and other proteins build up between the liver cells and make scar tissue. This scarring, or fibrosis, can spread through the liver and stop it from working properly. Fibrosis can be reversed if you address it early enough.
Finally, cirrhosis develops. Cirrhosis means severe scarring of the liver. Even at this stage of liver disease, fixing the underlying condition can reverse cirrhosis and prevent complications like liver failure.
So it’s never too late to make a change. Treating the underlying cause of your liver disease can prevent the damage from getting worse and can reverse the damage that has been done. This may lower your risk of developing liver cancer or liver failure, or of needing a liver transplant in the future.
How can I reverse the damage to my liver?
If you follow your medical team’s instructions and have regular monitoring, you can live a healthy life and potentially reverse some of the damage done to your liver.
The best way to reverse the damage is to remove whatever is causing it.
For example, if you have fatty liver caused by drinking alcohol, it’s important to stop drinking. If it’s caused by your diet or being overweight, then it’s important to eat healthily and lose weight.
Your doctor will also manage other conditions you might have that can increase the chance of progressing to cirrhosis. For example, if you have hepatitis B or hepatitis C, you may need antiviral medicines. Or if you have problems with your metabolism, you may need medicine to control your cholesterol, high blood pressure or blood sugar levels.
If you have liver disease, it’s very important to see your doctor regularly to check your health and ensure that your liver damage isn’t getting worse.
Read more about lifestyle changes you can make to safeguard your liver health.
What happens when liver damage is very severe?
There may come a point where the damage to the liver can’t be reversed. Some people may develop liver failure. Liver failure can cause:
- fluid build-up in the body
- yellow skin or eyes
- internal bleeding
But these signs of poor liver function can often be greatly improved by treating the underlying disease and actively preventing or treating any complications.
To do this, your doctor may prescribe medicines. They may also recommend you:
- avoid all alcohol
- stop smoking
- eat a healthy balanced diet
- get regular exercise
- go to regular check-ups to monitor your condition and find any complications early
One complication of liver failure is primary liver cancer. Having a regular ultrasound scan every 6 months can find early signs of liver cancer, which may be able to be cured.
It is very important that you see your healthcare team regularly and follow all advice. Otherwise, you could be at greater risk of further complications that may be difficult to treat.
In some people with liver failure or early liver cancer, liver transplant may be recommended to give you the best chance of living a good quality life. Your doctor will discuss this option with you if it is felt to be appropriate.
Am I at risk of my liver damage getting worse?
You are at greater risk of liver damage getting worse if:
- You are carrying excess body weight
- You have poorly controlled diabetes
- You continue to smoke or drink alcohol
- You don’t take medication as prescribed
- You don’t make changes to protect your liver health
American Liver Foundation. The progression of liver disease.
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Reviewed November 2022