Dose adjustment in patients with liver disease

Drug Saf. 2005;28(6):529-45. doi: 10.2165/00002018-200528060-00005.


Unfortunately, there is no endogenous marker for hepatic clearance that can be used as a guide for drug dosing. In order to predict the kinetic behaviour of drugs in cirrhotic patients, agents can be grouped according to their extent of hepatic extraction. For drugs with a high hepatic extraction (low bioavailability in healthy subjects), bioavailability increases and hepatic clearance decreases in cirrhotic patients. If such drugs are administered orally to cirrhotic patients, their initial dose has to be reduced according to hepatic extraction. Furthermore, their maintenance dose has to be adapted irrespective of the route of administration, if possible, according to kinetic studies in cirrhotic patients. For drugs with a low hepatic extraction, bioavailability is not affected by liver disease, but hepatic clearance may be affected. For such drugs, only the maintenance dose has to be reduced, according to the estimated decrease in hepatic drug metabolism. For drugs with an intermediate hepatic extraction, initial oral doses should be chosen in the low range of normal in cirrhotic patients and maintenance doses should be reduced as for high extraction drugs. In cholestatic patients, the clearance of drugs with predominant biliary elimination may be impaired. Guidelines for dose reduction in cholestasis exist for many antineoplastic drugs, but are mostly lacking for other drugs with biliary elimination. Dose adaptation of such drugs in cholestatic patients is, therefore, difficult and has to be performed according to pharmacological effect and/or toxicity. Importantly, the dose of drugs with predominant renal elimination may also have to be adapted in patients with liver disease. Cirrhotic patients often have impaired renal function, despite a normal serum creatinine level. In cirrhotic patients, creatinine clearance should, therefore, be measured or estimated to gain a guideline for the dosing of drugs with predominant renal elimination. Since the creatinine clearance tends to overestimate glomerular filtration in cirrhotic patients, the dose of a given drug may still be too high after adaptation to creatinine clearance. Therefore, the clinical monitoring of pharmacological effects and toxicity of such drugs is important. Besides the mentioned kinetic changes, the dynamics of some drugs is also altered in cirrhotic patients. Examples include opiates, benzodiazepines, NSAIDs and diuretics. Such drugs may exhibit unusual adverse effects that clinicians should be aware of for their safe use. However, it is important to realise that the recommendations for dose adaptation remain general and cannot replace accurate clinical monitoring of patients with liver disease treated with critical drugs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / pharmacokinetics
  • Benzodiazepines / administration & dosage
  • Benzodiazepines / pharmacokinetics
  • Biological Availability
  • Diuretics / administration & dosage
  • Diuretics / pharmacokinetics
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis / drug therapy*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / metabolism
  • Liver Cirrhosis / physiopathology
  • Metabolic Clearance Rate
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / administration & dosage*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / classification
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Diuretics
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Benzodiazepines