What are the EASL treatment guidelines for cirrhosis?

Updated: Jul 30, 2018
  • Author: David C Wolf, MD, FACP, FACG, AGAF, FAASLD; Chief Editor: BS Anand, MD  more...
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Answer

In patients with decompensated cirrhosis, the etiologic factor, should be removed, particularly alcohol consumption and hepatitis B or C virus infection, as this strategy is associated with decreased risk of decompensation and increased survival.

Strategies based on targeting abnormalities in the gut-liver axis by antibiotic administration (ie, rifaximin), improving the disturbed systemic circulatory function (ie, long-term albumin administration), decreasing the inflammatory state (ie, statins), and reducing portal hypertension (ie, beta blockers) have shown potential benefit to decrease cirrhosis progression in patients with decompensated cirrhosis.

A diagnostic paracentesis is recommended in all patients with new-onset grade 2 or 3 ascites, or in those hospitalized for worsening of ascites or any complication of cirrhosis.

Neutrophil count and culture of ascitic fluid culture (bedside inoculation blood culture bottles with 10 mL fluid each) should be performed to exclude bacterial peritonitis. A neutrophil count above 250 cells/µL is required to diagnose spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (SBP).

Ascitic total protein concentration should be performed to identify patients at higher risk of developing SBP.

The serum ascites albumin gradient (SAAG) should be calculated when the cause of ascites is not immediately evident, and/or when conditions other than cirrhosis are suspected.

Cytology should be performed to differentiate malignancy-related from non-malignant ascites.

Since the development of grade 2 or 3 ascites in patients with cirrhosis is associated with reduced survival, liver transplantation (LT) should be considered as a potential treatment option.

A moderate restriction of sodium intake (80–120 mmol/day, corresponding to 4.6–6.9 g of salt) is recommended in patients with moderate, uncomplicated ascites. This is generally equivalent to a no-added-salt diet with avoidance of pre-prepared meals. Adequate nutritional education of patients on how to manage dietary sodium is also recommended.

Diets with a very low sodium content (< 40 mmol/day) should be avoided, as they favor diuretic-induced complications and can endanger a patient’s nutritional status.

Patients with the first episode of grade 2 (moderate) ascites should receive an anti-mineralocorticoid drug alone, starting at 100 mg/day with stepwise increases every 72 hr (in 100 mg steps) to a maximum of 400 mg/day if there is no response to lower doses.

In patients who do not respond to anti-mineralocorticoids, as defined by a body weight reduction of less than 2 kg/wk, or in patients who develop hyperkalemia, furosemide should be added at an increasing stepwise dose from 40 mg/day to a maximum of 160 mg/day (in 40 mg steps).

Patients with long-standing or recurrent ascites should be treated with a combination of an anti-mineralocorticoid drug and furosemide, the dose of which should be increased sequentially according to the response.

Torasemide can be given in patients exhibiting a weak response to furosemide.

During diuretic therapy, a maximum weight loss of 0.5 kg/day in patients without edema and 1 kg/day in patients with edema is recommended.

Once ascites has largely resolved, the dose of diuretics should be reduced to the lowest effective dose.

In patients presenting with gastrointestinal (GI) hemorrhage, renal impairment, hepatic encephalopathy, hyponatremia, or alterations in serum potassium concentration, these abnormalities should be corrected before starting diuretic therapy. In these patients, cautious initiation of diuretic therapy and frequent clinical and biochemical assessments should be performed. Diuretic therapy is generally not recommended in patients with persistent overt hepatic encephalopathy.

Diuretics should be discontinued if severe hyponatremia (serum sodium concentration < 125 mmol/L), acute kidney injury (AKI), worsening hepatic encephalopathy, or incapacitating muscle cramps develop.

Furosemide should be stopped if severe hypokalemia occurs (< 3 mmol/L). Anti-mineralocorticoids should be stopped if severe hyperkalemia occurs (>6 mmol/L).

Albumin infusion or baclofen administration (10 mg/day, with a weekly increase of 10 mg/day up to 30 mg/day) is recommended in patients with muscle cramps.

Large volume paracentesis (LVP) is the first-line therapy in patients with large ascites (grade 3 ascites), which should be completely removed in a single session. LVP should be followed with plasma volume expansion to prevent post-paracentesis circulatory dysfunction (PPCD).

In patients undergoing LVP greater than 5 L of ascites, plasma volume expansion should be performed by infusing albumin (8 g/L of ascites removed), as it is more effective than other plasma expanders, which are not recommended for this setting

In patients undergoing LVP less than 5 L of ascites, the risk of developing PPCD is low. However, it is generally agreed that these patients should still be treated with albumin because of concerns about use of alternative plasma expanders.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should not be used in patients with ascites because of the high risk of developing further sodium retention, hyponatremia, and AKI.

Repeated LVP plus albumin (8 g/L of ascites removed) is recommended as first-line treatment for refractory ascites.

Diuretics should be discontinued in patients with refractory ascites who do not excrete >30 mmol/day of sodium under diuretic treatment.

Antibiotic prophylaxis is recommended in cirrhotic patients with acute GI bleeding because it reduces the incidence of infections and improves control of bleeding and survival. Treatment should be initiated on presentation of bleeding and continued for up to 7 days. Ceftriaxone (1 g/24 hr) is the first choice in patients with decompensated cirrhosis, those already on quinolone prophylaxis, and in hospital settings with high prevalence of quinolone-resistant bacterial infections. Oral quinolones (norfloxacin 400 mg bid) should be used in the remaining patients.


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