AGA Clinical Practice Update: Bariatric Surgery in Patients With Cirrhosis

Amy Karon

February 08, 2021

Obesity, a risk factor for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and a prevalent comorbidity among people with cirrhosis of all etiologies, is associated with a number of untoward health outcomes, and weight loss is an important goal, according to a clinical practice update from the American Gastroenterological Association. According to one study cited in the update, approximately 30% of patients with cirrhosis have comorbid obesity, and this figure may increase even further as the epidemic of NAFLD progresses.

For obese patients with cirrhosis, weight loss "is an important therapeutic goal" because obesity heightens risks of portal vein thrombosis, portal hypertension, hepatocellular carcinoma, liver failure in acute on chronic liver disease, and other concerns. Despite no longer being an absolute contraindication, obesity can also complicate liver transplantation considerations, Heather Patton, MD, of the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System and associates wrote in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. Consideration of individuals with cirrhosis, however, requires careful scrutiny of surgical candidacy, appropriate resources for care of patients with advanced liver disease, and a high-volume bariatric surgical center given the inherent risks of surgical procedures in this patient population.

For patients with cirrhosis and obesity, laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy is probably the best option for bariatric surgery because it preserves endoscopic access to the biliary tree, facilitates gradual weight loss, and does not cause malabsorption, according to the update.

Clinicians and patients should time bariatric surgery based on liver disease stage – for patients with decompensated disease, surgery should be performed only at the same time as or after liver transplantation, the experts wrote. Clinicians should also evaluate candidacy for liver transplantation before bariatric surgery "so that patients who are ineligible for transplant (and their families) have a clear understanding of this, avoiding the need for the medical team to address this issue urgently if the patient's condition deteriorates postoperatively."

One review suggested that bariatric surgery is "the most effective and durable" means of weight loss, according to the authors of the update; however, another review suggested increased surgical risk for bariatric surgery among patients with cirrhosis, so the update's authors recommended individualized risk-benefit assessments. These assessments are made even more complicated by scarcity of relevant randomized trial data, so the experts identified PubMed-indexed, peer-reviewed articles published between 2000 and 2020 and used these to make 10 best practice recommendations for bariatric surgery in obese patients with cirrhosis.

The surgical, anesthesia, and medical teams must be well versed in assessing and operating on patients with portal hypertension and cirrhosis and in managing these patients postoperatively, the experts wrote. The preoperative assessment should include cirrhosis status (compensated versus decompensated), the presence and severity of sarcopenia, ascites, and portal hypertension, and candidacy for liver transplantation. It is vital to check for clinically significant portal hypertension (CSPH) because endoscopic devices should not be used in patients with gastric and/or esophageal varices. To do so, upper endoscopy and cross-sectional imaging are recommended, pending better data on noninvasive assessment methods. For patients without CSPH, endoscopic bariatric treatment can be somewhat less effective for weight loss but also might be less likely to lead to postoperative complications. However, head-to-head and long-term safety data are not yet available.

The experts also noted that bariatric surgery increases the effects (blood levels) of alcohol and can increase patients' risk for developing an alcohol use disorder. Therefore, clinicians should carefully the history of alcohol use and repeatedly educate patients about the risks of consuming alcohol after bariatric surgery. According to a study from 2012 and a review from 2015, male sex, younger age, less social support, and regular or "problematic" alcohol use before bariatric surgery heighten the risk for developing an alcohol use disorder afterward, the experts noted.

Funding sources included the Robert H. Yauk Charitable Trust Gift for Liver Transplant Research 2017-2020 and Regenerative Medicine for Prevention of Post-Transplant Biliary Complications. The authors reported having no conflicts of interest.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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