Objectives: Patients with liver cirrhosis are at high risk of severe septic complications such as spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (SBP) and bacteraemia. The aims of this study were to assess intestinal permeability in patients with liver cirrhosis and to search for a relationship between an impaired intestinal permeability and the occurrence of severe septic complications.
Methods: Intestinal permeability was assessed in a group of 80 cirrhotic patients (Child A, n = 13; Child B, n = 26; Child C, n = 41) and 28 healthy control subjects. A severe septic complication (bacteraemia and/or SBP) occurred in 16 patients, within 10 days before (n = 8 cases) or after (n = 8 cases) the test was performed. Lactulose (LAC) 10 g was given orally together with mannitol (MAN) 5 g, and urinary excretion rates were determined.
Results: Urinary mannitol excretion (MAN%) was lower while the LAC/MAN ratio was higher in patients than in control subjects (P < 0.001); these abnormalities were more marked in Child C patients (Child C patients vs control subjects: MAN%, 8.20 +/- 0.79 vs 14.59 +/- 0.58, P < 0.001; LAC/MAN, 0.066 +/- 0.026 vs 0.017 +/- 0.001, P < 0.02). When compared with non-infected patients, septic patients had a lower MAN% and an increased LAC/ MAN ratio (5.45 +/- 1.12 vs 9.83 +/- 0.87, P < 0.02; 0.130 +/- 0.063 vs 0.029 +/- 0.005, P < 0.02).
Conclusion: Although the main mechanism involved in the decrease in MAN% is likely a reduction in area of the intestinal absorptive surface, these results argue in favour of an increased intestinal permeability in liver cirrhosis, especially in patients with severe infectious complications. The impairment of intestinal function barrier may contribute to severe septic complications in these patients.