How often is the liver affected by Covid-19?

Abnormal liver enzymes in patients with Covid-19 are common, particularly in those with severe disease.

 
Elevated levels of alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) have been reported in 14-53% of patients in several case series. More severe cases appear to have a higher prevalence of AST elevation (1). As some cases also have elevated creatine kinase (CK), the relative contribution of muscles to these enzyme abnormalities is unclear (2).

 
A small study involving ICU patients with Covid-19 reported a prevalence of elevated AST of 62% compared to 25% in non-ICU patients (3). Other studies have confirmed lower incidence of AST abnormality among patients with mild or subclinical disease (4,5).

 
Although much of the published reports of liver injury in Covid-19 have revolved around AST and ALT abnormalities, gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT) may also be elevated. GGT was abnormal in 54% of patients with Covid-19 during their hospitalization with alkaline phosphatase elevation reported in ~2.0% (1, unpublished reports). Elevation of total bilirubin has also been reported occasionally (1).

 
Although the exact mechanism(s) of Covid-19-related is unclear, direct viral infection of liver cells is one possibility as viremia has been documented in some cases (1). Of interest, a related coronavirus, SARS-CoV-1 has been shown to infect liver tissue and cholangiocytes may express ACE2 receptors, a prime target for Covid-19 virus (1,6,7, unpublished reports).

 

Despite these observations, to date, viral inclusions have not been demonstrated in the liver. Other possible causes of liver injury in Covid-19 include innate immune dysregulation, cytokine storm, hypoxia and drugs (1,2).

 

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References
1. Zhang C, Shi L, Wang FS. Liver injury in COVID-19:management and challenges. Lancet Gastroenterol Hepatol 2020; March 4. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2468-1253(20)30057-1
2. Bangash MN, Patel J, Parekh D. COVID-19 and the liver: little cause for concern. Lancet Gastroenterol Hepatol 2020;March 20. https://doi.org/10.1016/52468-1253(20)30084-4
3. Huang C, Wang Y, Li X, et al. Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China. Lancet 2020;395:497-506. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31986264/
4. Guan WJ, Ni ZY, Hu Y, et al. Clinical characteristics of 2019 novel coronavirus infection in China. N Engl J Med 2020;published online Feb 28. DOI:10.1056/NEJMoa2003032
5. Shi H, Han X, Jiang N, et al. Radiological findings from 81 patients with COVID-19 pneumonia in Wuhan, China: a descriptive study. Lancet Infect Dis 2020; published onlineFeb 24. DOI:10.1016/S1473-3099(20)30086-4 (lancet 8)
6. Chai X, Hu L, Zhang Y, et al. Specific ACE2 expression in cholangiocytes may cause liver damage after 209-nCoV infection. bioRxiv 2020;published online Feb 4. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.02.03.931766.
7. Xu Z, Shi L, Wang Y, et al. Pathological findings of COVID-19 associated with acute respiratory distress syndrome. Lancet Respir Med 2020; published online Feb 18. DOI:10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30076-X

 

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its 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!

 

How often is the liver affected by Covid-19?

When should I consider steroids in my patient with alcoholic hepatitis?

The short answer is not very often! In the treatment of alcoholic hepatitis (AH), steroids are reserved for a narrow group of patients only, with a 2018 meta-analysis finding a reduction in short-term mortality (average 36%) at 28 days but not at 6 months.1

The most studied scoring system to help clinicians decide whether a patient should get steroids is the Maddrey’s Discriminant Function (MDF), which is based on the prothrombin and total bilirubin. A score of ≥32 indicates severe disease and potential response to steroids, while a score <32 indicates mild to moderate disease, for which the risk of steroids (e.g. infection, worsening ulcer disease/bleeding, and glucose intolerance) may outweigh any potential benefit.

However, even with a score ≥32, the likelihood of patient adherence to 28 days of steroid therapy, risk of infection and other steroid-related complications should be carefully considered in individual patients. It’s also important to note that a 2008 meta-analysis showed that patients with a very high MDF score of >54 actually had higher mortality rates with steroid therapy, possibly related to the lack of response in very advanced disease as well as high infection risk.2

Many clinicians also use the Lille’s score to help determine whether a patient is a responder after 7 days of initial therapy. A score >0.45 (calculated based on bilirubin levels at day 0 and 7 and other initial labs and age) indicates poor response and that steroids may be stopped due to its risks.3

Based on the result of a small retrospective study, Glasgow Alcoholic Hepatitis (GAH) score has also been suggested as a means of further defining patients with a MDF ≥32 who may potentially benefit from steroids (ie, score ≥9).4

Bonus pearl: Did you know that pentoxifylline, a tumor necrosis factor (TNF), has generally not been found to be effective in the treatment of AH?5,6

Contributed by Tom Wang, MD, Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA.

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References

  1. Louvet A, et al. “Corticosteroids reduce risk of death within 28 days for patients with severe alcoholic hepatitis, compared with pentoxifylline or Placebo—a meta-analysis of individual data from controlled trials.” Gastroenterology 2018; 155: 458-468. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0016508518344950
  2. Rambaldi A, et al. “Systematic review: glucocorticosteroids for alcoholic hepatitis–a Cochrane Hepato‐Biliary Group systematic review with meta‐analyses and trial sequential analyses of randomized clinical trials.” Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics 2008; 27: 1167-1178. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2036.2008.03685.x
  3. Louvet A, et al. “The Lille model: a new tool for therapeutic strategy in patients with severe alcoholic hepatitis treated with steroids.” Hepatology 2007; 45: 1348-1354. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17518367
  4. Forrest EH, et al. “Analysis of factors predictive of mortality in alcoholic hepatitis and derivation and validation of the Glasgow alcoholic hepatitis score.” Gut 2005; 54: 1174-1179. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1774903/
  5. Thursz MR, et al. “Prednisolone or pentoxifylline for alcoholic hepatitis.” N Engl J Med 2015; 372: 1619-1628. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1412278
  6. Parker R. “Systematic review: pentoxifylline for the treatment of severe alcoholic hepatitis.” Alimentary Pharm Therapeutics 2018; 37: 845-854. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/apt.12279

 

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its 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!

When should I consider steroids in my patient with alcoholic hepatitis?

Why can’t my patient with alcohol-related liver disease be placed on the liver transplant list for at least 6 months after his last drink?

Although many centers impose a 6-month sobriety rule before patients can be listed for liver transplant, this rule has been increasingly challenged based on the results of more recent studies and ethical issues. 1-10

The argument for enforcing a 6-month sobriety rule is in part based on earlier studies (often small and/or single center) that reported an association between less than 6 months of sobriety before liver transplantation and relapse.5-6 Another frequently cited reason for postponing liver transplantation is to allow the liver enough time to recover from adverse effect of recent alcohol consumption before assessing the need for transplantation.6

Arguments against the 6-month sobriety rule include the very limited life-expectancy (often 3 months or less) of patients with severe alcohol-related liver disease who do not respond to medical therapy and increasing number of studies supporting earlier transplantation particularly in selected patients (eg, severe acute alcoholic hepatitis [SAAH], acute-on-chronic liver failure [ACLF]).1,7,9,10,

Further supporting a less stringent transplantation rule are a low rate (about 4%) of death or graft loss in alcohol-related liver disease patients who experience a relapse and lack of significant differences in survival between non-relapsers, occasional drinkers and problem drinkers.1 A 2019 multicenter, prospective study in the U.S. also found that early liver transplant for alcohol-related  liver disease was associated with comparable patient and graft survival as those without alcohol-related liver disease at 5 years post-transplant but increased risk of death at 10 years. 10

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that alcohol-related liver disease is now the most common diagnosis among patients undergoing liver transplantation in the U.S.? 10

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References

  1. Obed A, Stern S, Jarrad A, et al. Six month abstinence rule for liver transplantation in severe alcoholic liver disease patients. W J Gastroenterol 2015; 21:4423-26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4394109/
  2. Bramstedt KA, Jabbour N. When alcohol abstinence criteria create ethical dilemmas for the liver transplant team. J Med Ethics 2006;32:263-65. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2579412/
  3. Kollmann D, Rashoul-Rockenschaub S, Steiner I, et al. Good outcome after liver transplantation for ALD without a 6 months abstinence rule prior to transplantation including post-tranplantation CDT monitoring for alcohol relapse assement— a retrospective study. Transplant International 2016;29:559-67. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/tri.12756
  4. Osorio RW, Ascher NL, Avery M, et al. Predicting recidivism after orthoptic liver transplantation for alcoholic liver disease. Hepatoloty 1994;20:105-110. https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/hep.1840200117
  5. Carbonneau M, Jensen LA, Bain VG. Alcohol use while on the liver transplant waiting list: a single-center experience. Liver Transplantation 2010;16:91-97. https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/lt.21957
  6. Harnanan A. Challenging the “six-month sober” rule for liver transplants in Canada. McGill Journal of Law and Health. Dec 12, 2019. https://mjlh.mcgill.ca/2019/12/12/challenging-the-six-month-sober-rule-for-liver-transplants-in-canada/
  7. Lee BP, Mehta N, Platt L, et al. Outcomes of early liver transplantation for patients with severe alcoholic hepatitis. Gastroenterology 2018;155:422-430.e1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6460480/
  8. Rice JP, Lee BP. Early liver transplantation for alcohol-associated liver disease: need for engagement and education of all stakeholders. Hepatol Communications 2019;3: 1019-21. https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/hep4.1385
  9. Lee BP, Vittinghoff E, Pletcher MJ, et al. Medicaid policy and liver transplant for alcohol-related liver disease. Hepatology; November 8, 2019 https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/hep.31027
  10. Lee BP, Vittinghoff E, Dodge JL, et al. National trends and long-term outcomes of liver transplant for alcohol-associated liver disease in the United States. JAMA Intern Med 2019;179:340-48. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2720757?widget=personalizedcontent&previousarticle=2720750

Contributed in part by Nneka Ufere, MD, GI Division, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA

Why can’t my patient with alcohol-related liver disease be placed on the liver transplant list for at least 6 months after his last drink?

Can the elevation of AST and ALT in my patient with rhabdomyolysis be related to the muscle injury itself?

Yes! Elevated serum AST and ALT in the setting of rhabdomyolysis is not uncommon and, at least in some cases, appears to be related to the skeletal muscle injury itself.1,2

In a study of 16 patients considered to have significant muscle necrosis due to extreme exercise, polymyositis or seizures without evidence of liver disease (eg, viral hepatitis, exposure to hepatotoxic drugs, heart failure, biliary tract disease, recent hypotension) AST and, to lesser degree, ALT was elevated. For extreme exercise, the median AST and ALT concentrations were 2,466 IU/L and 497 U/L, respectively, while for seizures these levels were 1,448 U/L and 383 U/L respectively.1  

Another study reported AST elevation (>40 U/L) in 93.1% of patients with rhabdomyolysis and ALT elevation (>40 U/L) in 75.0% of patients with serum creatine kinase ≥1000 U/L. Further supporting a skeletal muscle origin for AST elevation was the finding that AST concentrations fell in parallel with CK drop during the first 6 days of hospitalization for rhabdomyolysis. It was posited that ALT concentrations dropped slower because of its longer serum half-life (47 hours vs 17 hours for AST).2 Despite these findings, concurrent liver injury as an additional source of AST or ALT elevation cannot be excluded.

Elevation of AST and ALT with muscle injury should not come as a surprise. AST is found in heart and skeletal muscle among many other organs. Even ALT which is considered more specific to liver is found in organs such as skeletal muscle, heart and kidney, though at lower concentrations.3

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that the first description of rhabdomyolysis in the literature involved English victims of crush injuries during World War II?2

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References

  1. Nathwani RA, Pais S, Reynolds TB, et al. Serum alanine aminotransferase in skeletal muscle diseases. Hepatology 2005;41:380-82. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15660433
  2. Weibrecht K, Dayno M, Darling C, et al. Liver aminotransferases are elevated with rhabdomyolysis in the absence of significant liver injury. J Med Toxicol 2010;6:294-300. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13181-010-0075-9
  3. Giannini EG, Testa R, Savarino V. Liver enzyme alteration: a guidance for clinicians. CMAJ2005;172:367-79. Giannini EG, Testa R, Savarino V. Liver enzyme alteration: a guidance for clinicians. CMAJ 2005;172:367-79. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15684121
Can the elevation of AST and ALT in my patient with rhabdomyolysis be related to the muscle injury itself?

What’s causing an isolated GGT elevation in my patient with an abnormal alkaline phosphatase on her routine admission lab?

Although serum gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase or GGT is a very sensitive test for liver disease, especially of biliary origin, it’s by no means a very specific test. Besides the liver, GGT is found in the kidneys, pancreas, prostate, heart, brain, and seminal vesicles but not in bone (1-4).

 
Obesity, alcohol consumption and drugs are common causes of GGT elevation (2). As early as 1960s, elevated GGT was reported in such seemingly disparate conditions as diabetes mellitus, congestive heart failure, myocardial infarction, nephrotic syndrome and renal neoplasm (3). Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, viral hepatitis, biliary obstruction, COPD, liver metastasis, drug-induced liver injury can all cause GGT elevation (1-4).

 
An isolated GGT does not necessarily indicate serious or progressive liver disease. That’s one reason it’s often not included in routine “liver panel” lab tests (1).

What to do when GGT is high but other liver panel tests such as ALT, AST, albumin, and bilirubin are normal? If your patient is at risk of acquired liver disease, then further workup may be necessary (eg, hepatitis B and C screening tests). Alcohol consumption should be queried. Don’t forget conditions associated with iron overload. If your patient is obese, diabetic or has elevated both lipids, an ultrasound of the liver to look for fatty liver should be considered. In the absence of risk factors, symptoms, or physical exam suggestive of liver disease, isolated GGT elevation should not require further investigation (1).

 
One good thing that may come out of finding an isolated elevated GGT is to encourage your patient to curb alcohol consumption or lose weight when indicated. But don’t rely on a normal GGT to rule out heavy alcohol consumption as it may miss 70% to 80% of cases (6)! 

 
Bonus Pearl: Did you know that GGT activity is thought to increase in alcohol use due to its role in maintaining intracellular glutathione, an anti-oxidant, at adequate levels to protect cells from oxidative stress caused by alcohol?

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References

1. Carey WD. How should a patient with an isolated GGT elevation be evaluated? Clev Clin J Med 2000;67:315-16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10832186
2. Newsome PN, Cramb R, Davison SM, et al. Guidelines on the management of abnormal liver blood tests. Gut 2018;67:6-19. https://gut.bmj.com/content/gutjnl/67/1/6.full.pdf
3. Whitfield JB, Pounder RE, Neale G, et al. Serum gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase activity in liver disease. Gut 1972;13:702-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4404786
4. Tekin O, Uraldi C, Isik B, et al. Clinical importance of gamma glutamyltransferase in the Ankara-Pursaklar region of Turkey. Medscape General Medicine 2004;6(1):e16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1140713/
5. Van Beek JHDA, de Moor MHM, Geels LM, et al. The association of alcohol intake with gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT) levels:evidence for correlated genetic effects. Drug Alcohol Depend 2014;134:99-105. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3909645/

6. Bertholet N, Winter MR, Cheng DM, et al. How accurate are blood (or breath) tests for identifying self-reported heavy drinking among people with alcohol dependence? Alcohol and Alcoholism 2014;49:423-29. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4060735/pdf/agu016.pdf

What’s causing an isolated GGT elevation in my patient with an abnormal alkaline phosphatase on her routine admission lab?

My patient with jaundice complains of abdominal fullness. How useful is the history or physical exam when assessing for ascites?

Even in the age of ultrasound, history and physical exam can be useful in assessing for ascites.

History is a good place to start. Of all the questions we often ask when we suspect ascites (eg, increasing abdominal girth, weight gain and ankle swelling), lack of report of ankle swelling is probably the most helpful in excluding ascites (negative likelihood ratio [LR-], 0.1 in a study involving men), followed by no increase in abdominal girth (LR-, 0.17). Conversely, patient reported ankle swelling or increasing abdominal girth may be helpful in suspecting ascites (LR+ 4.12 and 2.8, respectively). 1

Of the various physical signs and maneuvers, absence of peripheral edema is highly associated with the lack of ascites, followed by lack of shifting dullness or fluid wave (LR-, 0.2, 0.3, 0.4, respectively). The presence of a fluid wave may be the most helpful in suspecting ascites, followed by peripheral edema, and shifting dullness (LR+ 6.0, 3.8, 2.7, respectively). 1  Relatively high sensitivities have been reported for shifting dullness (83-88%), while relatively high specificities have been reported for the fluid wave test (82-90%).2,3 An elevated INR may also improve the positive predictive value of shifting dullness and fluid waves.4

So if you don’t get a history of ankle edema and find no evidence of peripheral edema or shifting dullness on exam, the likelihood of ascites is pretty low. On the other hand, if you find a positive fluid wave, you can be pretty sure that the patient has ascites.

Of course, the actual likelihood of detecting ascites also depends on several other factors, including your pre-test probability and the volume of the ascites in the abdominal cavity, with at least ~500 ml of ascites necessary before it can be detected on exam (vs ~100 ml for ultrasound). 2,5

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References

  1. Williams JW, Simetl DL. Does this patient have ascites? How to divine fluid in the abdomen. JAMA 1992;267: 2645-48. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/397285
  2. Cattau EL, Benjamin SB, Knuff TE, et al The accuracy of the physical examination in the diagnosis of suspected ascites. JAMA 1982;247:1164-66. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7057606
  3. Cummings S, Papadakis M, Melnick J, et al. The predictive value of physical examinations for ascites. West J Med 1985;142:633-36. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3892916
  4. Fitzgerald FT. Physical diagnosis versus modern technology. A review. West J Med 1990;152:377-82. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2190412
  5. CDC. Assessment for ascites. https://www.cdc.gov/dengue/training/cme/ccm/Assess%20for%20Ascites_F.pdf. Accessed November 13, 2019.
My patient with jaundice complains of abdominal fullness. How useful is the history or physical exam when assessing for ascites?

Why does my patient with alcoholic cirrhosis have macrocytic anemia?

Macrocytic anemia is commonly due to folate or vitamin B12 (cobalamin) deficiency.1 Deficiency in these vitamins can be related broadly to poor intake, poor absorption, or drug interference. In patients with chronic excess alcohol consumption, both intake and/or absorption of these vitamins may be affected.

Although folate deficiency is increasingly rare in many developed countries due to mandatory folate fortification of flour and uncooked-grain, alcohol use can be associated with malnourishment severe enough to causes folate deficiency. In addition, alcohol itself can alter folate metabolism and absorption.  More specifically, chronic alcohol consumption has been shown to be associated with decreased folate absorption by the small intestine, altered intrahepatic processing and distribution between the systemic and enterohepatic folate circulations as well as increased folate urinary excretion. 2 Though uncommon,3 alcohol can also be associated with a food B12 malabsorption process, whereby despite adequate intake, B12 is not released or absorbed from food. 4

But what if serum folate and B12 levels return as normal in our patient with macrocytosis? It turns out that alcohol consumption, independent of folate or B12 deficiency, may also cause macrocytosis. 5 Though the exact mechanism is unknown, it may be related to alcohol’s direct toxicity or that of its metabolites; alcohol is oxidized to acetaldehyde, which affects membranes of red blood cells (RBCs) and their precursors by forming adducts with erythroid proteins,6 and interfering with cell division.7 Interestingly, alcohol-related macrocytosis may appear before anemia is detected and can resolve within 2-4 months of abstinence.

In addition to alcohol, cirrhosis itself may be associated with macrocytic anemia caused by lipid deposition on RBC membranes.1

See also a related pearl at  www.Pearls4Peers.com

References

  1. Hoffbrand V, Provan D. ABC of clinical haematology: macrocytic anaemias. BMJ 2011;314(7078):430–430. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9040391
  2. Medici V, Halsted CH. Folate, alcohol, and liver disease. Mol Nutr Food Res 2013;57(4):596–606. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23136133
  3. Bode C, Bode CJ. Effect of alcohol consumption on the gut. Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol [Internet] 2003;17(4):575–92. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1521691803000349
  4. Dali-Youcef N, Andrès E. An update on cobalamin deficiency in adults. QJM 2009;102(1):17–28. https://academic.oup.com/qjmed/article/102/1/17/1502492
  5. Savage DG, Ogundipe A, Allen RH, Stabler SP, Lindenbaum J. Etiology and diagnostic Evaluation of macrocytosis. Am J Med Sci [Internet] 2000;319(6):343–52. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9629(15)40772-4 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10875288
  6. Latvala J, Parkkila S, Melkko J, Niemelä O. Acetaldehyde adducts in blood and bone marrow of patients with ethanol-induced erythrocyte abnormalities. Mol Med 2001;7(6):401–5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11474133
  7. Wickramasinghe SN, Malik F. Acetaldehyde causes a prolongation of the doubling time and an increase in the modal volume of cells in culture. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 1986;10(3):350–4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3526962

 

Contributed by Kim Schaefer, Harvard medical student, Boston, MA

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Why does my patient with alcoholic cirrhosis have macrocytic anemia?

Should my patient with cirrhosis and esophageal varices be considered for partial splenic embolization?

 

Although limited, the weight of the evidence suggests that patients with cirrhosis and esophageal varices may benefit from partial splenic embolization (PSE).

A 2006 small randomized-controlled trial comparing PSE and endoscopic ligation vs. endoscopic ligation alone in patients with cirrhosis, thrombocytopenia and esophageal varices reported reduced risk of recurrence of varices, progression to variceal bleeding and death over a mean follow-up of 4.8 years. 1

A 2016 meta-analysis of PSE in the management of gastroesophageal variceal hemorrhage arrived at a similar conclusion with respect to reducing the risk of recurrence of varices, variceal hemorrhage and mortality. 2 The studies included in this meta-analysis, however, were small with only 1 randomized-controlled trial (RCT) in the series.

A 2019 small retrospective of patients undergoing transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) placement with or without PSE found a significant benefit in primary shunt patency (period between placement and first shunt dysfunction), but not secondary shunt patency (period between placement and permanent shunt dysfunction) or mortality over a 5-year follow-up.3

Adverse effects of PSE include post-embolization syndrome—a constellation of symptoms such as fever, pain, and nausea/vomiting— reported in 78%-100% of patients. More severe complications up to 15%-30% may also occur with PSE, particularly when around 70% or more of splenic volume is embolized. These complications include pleural effusion/ascites, spontaneous bacterial peritonitis, pulmonary embolism, liver failure, portal vein thrombosis and splenic abscesses which may develop between 10 days to 3 months following the procedure.  Up to 6% of patients undergoing PSE may die of the procedure-related complications. 4-6  

For these reasons, careful selection of patient for PSE and limiting the extent of splenic necrosis to 50% with close monitoring of clinical and ultrasound follow-up, particularly in patients with a volume of splenic necrosis >50%,  have been suggested.6

 

Fun fact: Did you know that splenic embolization was first performed by Frank E. Maddison of Madison, Wisconsin, in 1973 using autologous clot to treat recurrent gastrointestinal hemorrhage arising from esophageal varies?

 

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References

 

  1. Ohmoto K, Yoshioka N, Tomiyama Y, et al. Improved prognosis of cirrhosis patients with esophageal varices and thrombocytopenia treated by endoscopic variceal ligation plus partial splenic embolization. Digestive Diseases and Sciences 2006;51:352-58. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10620-006-3137-8
  2. Wang P, Liu R, Tong L, et al. Partial splenic embolization has beneficial effects for the management of gastroesophageal variceal hemorrhage. Saudi J Gastroenterol 2016;22:399-406. http://europepmc.org/articles/PMC5184739/
  3. Wan Y-M, Li Y-H, Xu Z-Y, et al. Comparison of TIPS alone and combined with partial splenic embolization (PSE) for the management of variceal bleeding. European Radiology 2019; https://doi.org/10.100/s00330-019-06046-6
  4. N’Kontchou G, Seror O, Bourcier V, et al. Partial splenic embolization in patients with cirrhosis: efficacy, tolerance, and long-term outcome in 32 patients. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol 2005;17:179-84. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15674095
  5. Hadduck TA, McWilliams JP. Partial splenic artery embolization in cirrhotic patients. World J Radiol 2014;28:6:160-168. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4037542/
  6. Smith M, Ray CE. Splenic artery embolization as an adjunctive procedure for portal hypertension. Semin Intervent Radiol 2012;29:135-39. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3444868/
  7. Maddison FE. Embolic therapy of hypersplenism. Invest Radiol 1973;8:280-281. https://journals.lww.com/investigativeradiology/Citation/1973/07000/Embolic_Therapy_of_Hypersplenism.54.aspx

 

Contributed in part by Theodore R. Pak, MD, PhD, Mass General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.

Should my patient with cirrhosis and esophageal varices be considered for partial splenic embolization?

My patient with no known liver disease appears to have bilateral asterixis. What other causes should I consider?

Although originally described in 1949 in patients with liver disease and labelled as “liver flap”, numerous other causes of asterixis exist aside from severe liver disease (1,2). As early as 1950s, asterixis was observed among some patients with heart failure and pulmonary insufficiency but without known significant liver disease (3). Azotemia has also been associated with asterixis.

 
Don’t forget about medication-associated asterixis . Commonly used drugs such as gabapentin, pregabalin, phenytoin, and metoclopramide have been associated with asterixis (1,4) . Even antibiotics such as ceftazidime and high dose trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole may be culprits (1,5). There are many psychiatric drugs including lithium, carbamazepine, clozapine, and valproic acid that have been implicated (1,6) as well. Some reviews have also included hypomagnesemia and hypokalemia on the list of causes of asterixis (1).

 
Although asterixis is essentially a negative myoclonus with episodic loss of electrical activity of muscle and its tone, its exact pathophysiology remains unclear (7). 

 

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that the origin of the word asterixis is An (negative)-iso (equal)-sterixis (solidity) which was shortened by Foley and Adams, its original discoverers, to what we now refer to as “asterixis” (1).

 

References
1. Agarwal R, Baid R. Asterixis. J Postgrad Med 1016;62:115-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4944342/ 2. Pal G, Lin MM, Laureno R. Asterixis: a study of 103 patients. Metab Brain Dis; 2014:29:813-24. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11011-014-9514-7
3. Conn HO. Aterixis—Its occurrence in chronic pulmonary disease, with a commentary on its general mechanism. N Engl J Med 1958;259:564-569. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM195809182591203
4. Kim JB, Jung JM, Park MH. Negative myoclonus induced by gabapentin and pregabalin: a case series and systemic literature review. J Neurol Sci 2017;382:36-9. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S096758681830225X
5. Gray DA, Foo D. Reversible myoclonus, asterixis, and tremor associated with high dose trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole: a case report. J Spinal Cord Med 2016; Vol. 39 (1), pp. 115-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26111222
6. Nayak R, Pandurangi A, Bhogale G, et al. Aterixis (flapping tremors) as an outcome of complex psychotropic drug interaction. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 2012;24: E26-7. https://neuro.psychiatryonline.org/doi/pdf/10.1176/appi.neuropsych.101102667. Ugawa Y, Shimpo T, Mannen T. Physiological analysis of asterixis: silent period locked averaging. J Neurol Neurosurg Psych 1989;52:89-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1032663/pdf/jnnpsyc00523-0104.pdf

 

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My patient with no known liver disease appears to have bilateral asterixis. What other causes should I consider?

Should I continue nadolol in my patient with cirrhosis and refractory ascites?

Under certain circumstances, you may need to! Although nonselective beta blockers (NSBBs), such as nadolol and propranolol, have been the cornerstone of medical treatment of portal hypertension in preventing variceal bleeding in patients with cirrhosis for decades, recent reports of their association with worsening survival, increased risk of hepatorenal syndrome and acute kidney injury in patients with refractory ascites or spontaneous bacterial peritonitis [SBP]) 1,2 have added controversy to their routine use in end-stage cirrhosis.

This is because patients with end-stage cirrhosis may be highly dependent on their cardiac output (particularly the heart rate) in maintaining an adequate arterial blood pressure 3-5 and the negative inotropic and chronotropic effects of NSBBs blunt this compensatory mechanism. The result is a drop in the cardiac output that may be particularly significant in the presence of conditions already associated with hypotension, such as sepsis, spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (SBP), or hemorrhage, further increasing the risk of renal hypoperfusion and hepatorenal syndrome.3

Although 2 meta-analysis studies failed to find an association between NSBBs and increased mortality among patients with cirrhosis and ascites, 6,7 serious concerns over the adverse effects of these drugs in at least a subset of patients has not waned.  Some have recommended reducing NSBB dose or discontinuing treatment in patients with refractory ascites or SBP and any of the following parameters: 4

  • Systolic blood pressure <90 mmHg
  • Serum creatinine >1.5 mg/dL
  • Hyponatremia <130 mmol/L

Similar recommendations were made by a 2015 consensus conference on individualizing the care of patients with portal hypertension.

In the absence of randomized-controlled studies, it seems prudent to proceed with more caution when using NSBBs in patients with end-stage cirrhosis and watch closely for any signs of hypotension or renal function deterioration.

References

  1. Serste T, Njimi H, Degre D, et al. The use of beta-lackers is associated with the occurrence of acute kidney injury in severe hepatitis. Liver In 2015;35:1974-82. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25611961
  2. Mandorfer M, Bota S, Schwabl P, et al. Nonselective beta blockers increase risk of hepatorenal syndrome and death in patients with cirrhosis and spontaneous bacterial peritonitis. Gastroenterol 2014;146:1680-90. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016508514003060?via%3Dihub
  3. Garcia-Tsao G. The use of nonselective beta blockers for treatment of portal hypertension. Gastroenterol Hepatol 2017;13: 617-19. http://www.gastroenterologyandhepatology.net/archives/october-2017/the-use-of-nonselective-beta-blockers-for-treatment-of-portal-hypertension/
  4. Reiberger T, Mandorfer M. Beta adrenergic blockade and decompensated cirrhosis. J Hepatol 2017;66: 849-59. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27864004
  5. Giannelli V, Lattanzi, Thalheimer U, et al. Beta-blockers in liver cirrhosis. Ann Gastroenterol 2014;27:20-26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24714633
  6. Facciorusso A, Roy S, Livadas S, et al. Nonselective beta-blockers do not affect survival in cirrhotic patients with ascites. Digest Dis Sci 2018;63:1737-46. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10620-018-5092-6
  7. Njei B, McCarty TR, Garcia-Tsao G. Beta-blockers in patients with cirrhosis and ascites: type of betablocker matters. Gut 206;65:1393-4. https://gut.bmj.com/content/gutjnl/65/8/1393.full.pdf
  8. De Franchis R. Expanding consensus in portal hypertension. Report of the Baveno VI Consensus Workshop: stratifying risk and individualizing care for portal hypertension.  J Hepatol 2015;63:743-52.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26047908  

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Should I continue nadolol in my patient with cirrhosis and refractory ascites?