Why are patients with cirrhosis and upper gastrointestinal bleed routinely treated with antibiotics?

Cirrhotic patients with upper gastrointestinal bleed (UGIB) are at high risk of bacterial infections: 22% during the first 48 h after admission, 35-66% within 2 weeks of initial bleeding1. Antibiotic prophylaxis has been shown to reduce short term mortality, bacterial infections, early rebleeding and volume of blood transfused1-4.

But what is the exact connection between UGIB and bacterial infections in cirrhosis? One hypothesis is that UGIB sets up the host for bacterial infection via translocation (eg, due to hypovolemia), procedures necessary in the management of bleeding (eg endoscopy, sclerotherapy, IV access), and aspiration pneumonia. More intriguing is the reverse hypothesis—that is the bacterial infection serves as a trigger for UGIB.  Several lines of evidence support this view1,2.

  • Cirrhotic patients admitted for non-UGIB-related conditions may be 4x more likely to develop UGIB during their hospitalization in the presence of bacterial infection on admission4
  • Infections predispose to early variceal rebleeding
  • Infection/endotoxemia increase portal pressure, and impair liver function and coagulation
  • Commonly cited risk factors for variceal bleeding (eg, hepatic venous pressure gradient, liver function, size of varices) do not readily explain why bleeding occurs unpredictably and why despite daily increases in portal pressure (eg, following daily meals and exercises), UGIB is relatively infrequent.

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  1. Thalheimer U, Triantos CK, Samonakis DN, et al. Infection, coagulation, and variceal bleeding in cirrhosis. Gut 2005;54:556-63. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1774431
  2. Goulis J. Bacterial infection in the pathogenesis of variceal bleeding. Is there any role for antibiotic prophylaxis in the cirrhotic patient. Ann Gastroenterol 2001;14:205-11. http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&ved=0ahUKEwjNh-rhlpLVAhXGdD4KHSurANcQFgg4MAM&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.annalsgastro.gr%2Findex.php%2Fannalsgastro%2Farticle%2Fdownload%2F80%2F71&usg=AFQjCNHJfAyYAjuNXpwsWGrVuyuxxgJYKg
  3. Soares-Weiser K, Brezis, Tur-Kaspa R, et al. Antibiotic prophylaxis of bacterial infections in cirrhotic inpatients: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Scand J Gastroenterol 2003;38:193-200. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00365520310000690
  4. Anastasioua J, Williams R. When to use antibiotics in the cirrhotic patient? The evidence base. Ann Gastroenterol. 2013; 26(2): 128–131. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3959942
  5. Benavides J, Fernandez N, Colombato L, et al. Further evidence linking bacterial infection and upper G.I. bleeding in cirrhosis. Results from a large multicentric prospective survey in Argentina. J Hepatol 2003;38 (suppl 2):A176. http://www.journal-of-hepatology.eu/article/S0168-8278(03)80592-5/abstract

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Mercy Hospital-St. Louis, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, their affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!


Why are patients with cirrhosis and upper gastrointestinal bleed routinely treated with antibiotics?

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