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How to Treat Cirrhosis With Acupuncture and TCM


By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D. and Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.


Diarrhea, stomach cramps, abdominal pain, liver pain
Right side abdominal pain can be a sign of liver cirrhosis.

Tired all the time? Upper right abdominal pain? Itchy skin? Muscle cramps? These can be cirrhosis of the liver symptoms. Acupuncture and TCM can help relieve liver pain due to cirrhosis and help to improve liver function.

Cirrhosis of the liver is a serious and progressive condition characterized by the scarring of liver tissue, which can lead to liver failure over time. This condition can be caused by various factors, like chronic viral hepatitis infections, primary biliary cirrhosis, and long-term alcohol overuse (alcoholic cirrhosis).

Other conditions that cause cirrhosis include: cystic fibrosis, autoimmune hepatitis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, hemochromatosis (iron buildup), and primary biliary cholangitis (hardening of the bile ducts). 

The liver is a vital organ responsible for detoxifying harmful substances from the body, producing bile to aid in digestion, and storing nutrients. When cirrhosis of the liver occurs, these functions are significantly impaired, which can lead to a wide range of health problems.

Cirrhosis of the liver symptoms can vary depending on the severity and progression of the disease. Many people have liver cirrhosis without realizing it, as it is possible to have cirrhosis for years without being symptomatic.


Top 10 Symptoms of Cirrhosis of the Liver

Cirrhosis symptoms include:

  1. Bruise easily, bleed easily
  2. Nausea
  3. Fatigue, drowsiness
  4. Lack of appetite
  5. Itchy skin, pruritus
  6. Edema in legs, edema in ankles, edema in feet
  7. Jaundice – yellow eyes, yellow skin
  8. Spider veins
  9. Pale fingernails, clubbed fingers, red palms
  10. Cognitive difficulties, slurred speech

Cirrhosis can affect menstruation, causing irregular periods or no period, and cause female infertility. Cirrhosis can also affect sexual function (erectile dysfunction/ED), libido and male fertility.

In its early stages, cirrhosis may present with mild or no symptoms, making it challenging to diagnose without medical testing.

As the condition advances, cirrhosis symptoms will usually worsen, signaling the need for intervention. 


4 Stages of Liver Disease

It is important to recognize the stages of cirrhosis of the liver. Early intervention can help slow down the progression of liver disease.


  1. Stage I: Steatosis (Fatty Liver) – The first stage involves inflammation of the bile duct or liver. Abdominal pain is often the first sign. If not treated, the inflammation can damage the liver. Symptoms and inflammation are usually treatable at this stage, preventing progression to stage II.
  2. Stage II: Fibrosis (Liver Scarring) – Many people don’t notice symptoms until stage II or III. In this stage, scarring begins to block the normal blood flow in the liver. The liver doesn’t function properly, but with treatment, it can still recover and slow down the disease.
  3. Stage III: Cirrhosis – Cirrhosis occurs when scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue. This happens over several years due to untreated disease or infection. The liver becomes hard and lumpy, making it difficult for blood to flow through it. The blocked blood flow can also affect the spleen, causing additional issues.
  4. Stage IV: Liver Failure – At this final stage, the liver stops functioning. Immediate medical intervention is needed to prevent fatal outcomes.

Early diagnosis and treatment for cirrhosis are crucial to prevent further liver damage and manage cirrhosis effectively. Acupuncture and TCM offer an alternative treatment for cirrhosis to help restore liver function.


Medical Treatment for Liver Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis treatment focuses on slowing the progression of the disease, managing liver cirrhosis symptoms, and preventing complications. The specific approach can vary depending on the underlying cause of cirrhosis, such as hepatitis, alcoholic liver disease, or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. 

Common conventional treatments and strategies used to manage liver cirrhosis include medications to reduce inflammation and manage symptoms. 

For cirrhosis caused by chronic hepatitis B or C, antiviral medications can help reduce liver inflammation and prevent further liver damage.

Diuretics are often prescribed to reduce fluid retention and swelling (edema) in the legs and abdomen (ascites). Paracentesis is a procedure that drains excess fluid from the abdomen in cases of severe ascites.

Beta-blockers decrease the risk of bleeding from esophageal varices (enlarged veins in the esophagus) by lowering blood pressure in the portal vein.

Alcoholism is one of the causes of liver cirrhosis
Alcoholism is one of the causes of liver cirrhosis

Frequent blood tests, imaging studies (such as ultrasounds), and endoscopies to monitor liver function and detect complications early.

In cases where cirrhosis progresses to end-stage liver disease and liver function is severely compromised, a liver transplant is sometimes the only option. This involves replacing the damaged liver with a healthy one from a donor.

For alcoholic cirrhosis, abstaining from alcohol is crucial. Medical support, counseling, and rehabilitation programs can aid in alcohol cessation.

Lifestyle modifications, including a healthy diet, weight loss, and regular exercise, are essential for patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) related cirrhosis. Eating a balanced diet low in sodium to reduce fluid retention and avoiding alcohol and substances that can further harm the liver.

By combining these treatments, healthcare providers aim to manage cirrhosis effectively, improve the quality of life, and extend the lifespan of individuals with this chronic condition.  However, some of the medications recommended for cirrhosis, such as antiviral drugs and diuretics, can potentially cause harm to other organ systems and do not serve to address the deeper root causes of liver dysfunction. Acupuncture and TCM offer a holistic treatment for cirrhosis that takes the whole body into account.


Can Acupuncture Help Cirrhosis?

acupuncture treatment for liver cirrhosis
TCM treatment for cirrhosis can help relieve symptoms and improve liver function.

According to TCM theory, the liver is responsible not only for removing toxins from the bloodstream and body; it also disperses nutrients and medicinal substances throughout the body.

In modern life, people’s livers have to work much harder to process all of the chemicals and other toxins to which we are exposed on a daily basis. When the liver is overtaxed, it cannot provide adequate energy and nutrition, and it may not be able to eliminate all of the toxins. 

This buildup of chemicals and unhealthy “food” substances in the liver contributes to the formulation of scar tissue in the liver.

Symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, itchy skin or skin rashes indicate that the liver is trying to purge toxins. When the liver cannot expel enough of the toxins, they will begin to affect the kidneys, too.

Medical treatments that aim to get rid of rashes or other symptoms may help the person feel more comfortable, but they do not help the root cause of the problems in the liver; they only cover them up. The use of antiviral and antibiotic medications, likewise, may seem to be taking care of infections, but they are potentially causing further damage to the organs.

In TCM, internal pathogens like cold, damp, and stagnation affecting the organ systems contribute to disease. Liver disease is not only about the liver, but also the kidneys, heart, stomach, and spleen. Symptoms like stomach distension, edema in the legs and feet, varicose veins or spider veins, and jaundice occur because of deficiencies in the various organs.

An acupuncturist will listen and observe each individual’s symptoms carefully to see which organs are affected. The TCM treatment plan will then involve acupuncture treatment and herbs to help strengthen all of the organs (heart, kidney, spleen and stomach), not just the liver.

A review of 15 studies in China in which TCM was used to treat liver cirrhosis concluded that acupuncture is effective both as a primary treatment and an adjunct treatment for chronic liver disease, helping to relieve symptoms and improve liver function.

If acupuncture treatment is sought before there is too much liver damage, TCM can help slow the progression of the disease and reduce painful symptoms.

One study showed that four weeks of electro-acupuncture treatment helped to reduce muscle cramps in liver cirrhosis patients.

Acupuncture helps to treat the underlying conditions that cause cirrhosis, including hepatitis, and fatty liver disease.

Another study showed that patients who received acupuncture treatment in addition to conventional treatment for liver cirrhosis showed less liver fibrosis (scarring) and fewer gastrointestinal symptoms than patients who only received conventional treatment.

Most doctors will advise patients with liver disease to quit drinking and cut out certain foods. Acupuncturists have expertise in nutrition that allows them to give each patient personalized care when deciding what dietary changes need to be made. Acupuncture treatment can also be very helpful when people are ready to cut out alcohol and eat the right foods to help improve liver health.


Acupuncture Near Me for Cirrhosis in West Los Angeles 

TCM has been used to help improve liver health for many centuries. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help address liver problems of all kinds. At Art of Wellness, we are able to help patients improve liver function and feel better through acupuncture, customized herbal formulas, and individualized nutritional counseling.


*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

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