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.

 

References

  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

 

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

My patient with cirrhosis has been admitted to the hospital several times this year with bacterial infections. How does cirrhosis increase susceptibility to infections?

Bacterial infections are a common cause of morbidity and mortality in patients with cirrhosis, affecting about 30% of such patients either at admission or during their hospitalization, with an attendant risk of mortality that is twice that of individuals without cirrhosis1.

Two major mechanisms may account for the observed immune dysfunction in cirrhosis: 1. Compromise of the immune surveillance function of the liver itself through damage of the reticulo-endothelial system (RES) and reduced synthesis of innate immunity proteins and pattern recognition receptors (PRRs); and 2. Dysfunctions of circulating and intestinal population of immune cells2.

Damage to the RES in cirrhosis leads to portal-system shunting, loss/damage of Kupffer cells (specialized hepatic macrophages) and sinusoidal capillarization, all hindering blood-borne pathogen clearance. Cirrhosis is also associated with a defect in hepatic protein synthesis, including complement components, decreased PRRs and acute phase reactants (eg C-reactive protein), which may in turn lead to the impairment of the innate immunity and bacterial opsonization.

Cirrhosis can also cause reduction in the number and function of neutrophils (eg, decreased phagocytosis and chemotaxis), B, T, and NK lymphocytes, and decreased in bacterial phagocytosis by monocytes. In addition, damage to the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (eg Peyer’s patches and mesenteric lymph nodes) may facilitate bacterial translocation.

References

  1. Pieri G, Agarwal B, Burroughs AK. C-reactive protein and bacterial infections in cirrhosis. Ann Gastroenterol 2014;27:113-120. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3982625/pdf/AnnGastroenterol-27-113.pdf
  2. Albillos A, Lario M, Alvarez-Mon M. Cirrhosis-associated immune dysfunction: distinctive features and clinical relevance. J Hepatol 2014;61:1385-1396. http://www.journal-of-hepatology.eu/article/S0168-8278(14)00549-2/pdf

 

My patient with cirrhosis has been admitted to the hospital several times this year with bacterial infections. How does cirrhosis increase susceptibility to infections?