BOSTON (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Patients with serious liver disease who also had hepato-adrenal syndrome had significantly longer hospital stays; these patients had significantly longer ICU courses as well.

According to a recent study of this under-recognized syndrome, patients with cirrhosis, acute liver failure, or acute liver injury who also had clinically significant adrenocortical dysfunction had longer hospital stays when compared to patients without hepato-adrenal syndrome (HAS).

Presenting the study findings at a poster session at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease, Christina Lindenmeyer, MD, and her associates noted that the longer stays for HAS patients with serious liver disease held true even after adjustment for gender, blood glucose levels, and Child-Pugh score (median 29 days, HAS; 17 days, non-HAS; P = .001).

Further, the patients with HAS were more likely to have a prolonged ICU stay, after multivariable analysis adjusted for a variety of factors including the need for mechanical ventilation, age, bilirubin level, Model for End-stage Liver Disease (MELD) score, and severity of encephalopathy (13.5 vs. 4.9 days; P = .002).

“Patients with cirrhosis commonly have hypotension, and I think it’s underrecognized that the elevated levels of endotoxin and the low levels of lipoprotein circulating in patients with cirrhosis can lead to adrenocortical dysfunction,” Dr. Lindenmeyer said in a video interview .

The single-center study enrolled ICU patients with cirrhosis, acute liver injury, and/or acute liver failure who had random cortisol or adrenocorticotropin-releasing hormone (ACTH) stimulation test results. From 2008 to 2014, the tertiary care center saw 69 patients meeting these criteria; 32 patients (46%) had HAS. The mean age was 57.4 years, and 63.8% of enrolled patients were male. There were no significant differences in these demographics between the groups. Serum bicarbonate was higher in patients with HAS (21.4 vs. 17.5 mEq/L; P = .020); other blood chemistries, mean arterial pressures, and the MELD and Child-Pugh scores did not differ significantly between groups.

Dr. Lindenmeyer, a fellow in the Cleveland Clinic’s department of gastroenterology and hepatology, said that the accepted definition of HAS is a random cortisol level of less than 15 mcg/dL in “patients who were highly stressed in the ICU, typically with respiratory failure or hypotension,” she said. For non-ICU patients, the random cortisol level should be less than 20 mcg/dL. An alternative criterion is a post-ACTH stimulation test cortisol level of less than 20 mcg/dL.

Though there was no statistically significant difference between in-hospital mortality for those patients meeting HAS criteria, the trend was actually for those patients to have lower in-hospital mortality (44% vs. 51%; P = .53). This was true even after correction for MELD scores and serum potassium levels. Dr. Lindenmeyer said these results were “a little surprising,” and noted that the study didn’t examine 90-day or 1-year mortality. “That would be something interesting to look at,” she said.

“Early recognition and treatment of HAS may improve judicious allocation of critical care and hospital resources,” wrote Dr. Lindenmeyer and her colleagues.

Dr. Lindenmeyer reported no conflicts of interest, and there were no outside sources of funding reported.

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