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?

Should my patient with suspected alcoholic hepatitis undergo liver biopsy?

Although a characteristic clinical history and biochemical pattern of liver injury can strongly suggest the diagnosis of alcoholic hepatitis (AH), a definitive diagnosis is confirmed with liver biopsy only. In fact, in 30% of patients clinically diagnosed as having AH, a liver biopsy may lead to an alternative diagnosis.1Understandably, many physicians are reluctant to proceed with biopsy in this fragile patient population given the associated risks, notably bleeding. For this reason, most patients with AH are clinically diagnosed without a liver biopsy. However, there are certain instances in which a biopsy can be helpful, including when:2

  • Diagnosis of AH is in doubt
  • Suspicion for another disease process that may be contributing in parallel to AH is high
  • Obtaining prognostic data or identification of advanced hepatic fibrosis or cirrhosis in AH is desired

Thus, liver biopsy findings may influence short- and long-term management in AH. For these reasons, the European Association for the Study of the Liver recommends consideration of a liver biopsy in patients with AH.3 To minimize the bleeding risk, the transjugular approach is preferred.

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References

  1. Mookerjee RP, Lackner C, Stauber R, et al. The role of liver biopsy in the diagnosis and prognosis of patients with acute deterioration of alcoholic cirrhosis. J Hepatol 2011; 55:1103-1111 Link
  2. Altamirano J, Miquel R, Katoonizadeh A, et al. A histologic scoring system for prognosis of patients with alcoholic hepatitis. Gastroenterology 2014;146: 1231-1239. PDF
  3. European Association for the Study of Liver. EASL clinical practical guidelines: management of alcoholic liver disease. J Hepatol 2012; 57:399-420. PDF

Contributed by Jay Luther, MD, Gastrointestinal Unit, Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA.

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!

 

Should my patient with suspected alcoholic hepatitis undergo liver biopsy?