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Caring for Your Liver if You Have HIV/AIDS

December 2, 2015

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Liver Disease and Women

Some liver problems occur during pregnancy or affect women more often than men. These include:

  • Gallstones
  • Biliary cirrhosis (bile duct damage)
  • Autoimmune liver diseases
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Hepatic adenomas (liver tumors)

Women tend to develop alcohol-related liver disease, particularly cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), more quickly than men.

Oral contraceptives (birth control pills) can cause an increase in hepatic adenomas (fatty liver tumors) and should not be used by women who have had these benign (non-cancerous) tumors.

Caring for Your Liver

The liver has a special ability to repair itself under most circumstances. Unfortunately, permanent damage can also occur.

Good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle will go a long way toward supporting this hardworking organ.
If your HIV drugs are causing damage to your liver, it may be possible to switch to other drugs. This may not be an option for everyone. It is important to balance the need for HIV drugs with their potential to cause liver damage and to talk with your provider so that you can make the best decision for you.

There are many things you can do to protect your liver from damage, help it heal, and support its function.

Avoid Alcohol and Street Drugs

  • Heavy drinking can cause cirrhosis (scarring)
  • Many HIV drugs and other medications should not be combined with alcohol
  • Avoid alcohol completely if you also have hepatitis
  • Using some street drugs may affect your liver

Get Tested for Hepatitis

  • Hepatitis A (HAV) and B (HBV)

    • If you test negative, get vaccinated against HAV and HBV
    • If you test positive, talk to your health care provider about treatment
  • Hepatitis C (HCV)

    • If you test negative, there is no vaccination. You can avoid exposure to the HCV virus by avoiding contact with infected blood or needles
    • If you test positive, it is important that your health care provider monitor both HIV and HCV and provide appropriate care and treatment

Eat Healthy Food and Be Physically Active

  • Maintain a healthy body weight through healthy foods and regular physical activity
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, especially dark green leafy vegetables and orange and red colored fruits and vegetables
  • Drink large amounts of fluids, especially water
  • Avoid high-fat dairy products, processed vegetable oils (hydrogenated fats), deep-fried foods, and fatty meats

Be Cautious with Vitamins and Supplements

  • Take a multivitamin with antioxidants
  • Do not take high doses of vitamin A or carotenoids (beta-carotene) if you have liver disease
  • Avoid high levels of iron
  • Herbal therapies, such as milk thistle (silymarin), have been widely used to treat the liver. Some herbs are toxic to the liver and some interact with HIV drugs. It is important to tell your health care provider if you are using any herbs or supplements.

Taking Care of Yourself

When your liver is damaged it cannot perform all of its important functions properly. Since there may not be any obvious symptoms of liver damage, it is important to check your liver health with regular medical visits and lab tests. Talk with your health care provider to find what HIV drugs are best for you and your liver. In addition, good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle will go a long way toward supporting this hardworking organ.

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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.

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