Background/aims: The equilibrium of offsetting metabolic acid-base disorders in stable cirrhosis might be lost during episodes of hepatic decompensation, haemorrhage or sepsis. The purpose of this study was to determine whether the acid-base state is destabilized in critically ill patients with cirrhosis and whether this is associated with mortality.
Patients and method: One-hundred and eighty-one consecutive patients with cirrhosis were investigated in a prospective observational cohort study on admission to a medical intensive care unit (ICU) of a university hospital. Arterial acid-base state was assessed according to the Gilfix methodology. Clinical data, ICU mortality and hospital mortality were recorded.
Main results: Patients had net metabolic acidosis owing to unmeasured anions and owing to hyperchloraemic, dilutional and lactic acidosis. Lactic acidosis, acidemia and acute renal failure on ICU admission were associated with increased mortality. Lactate and pH discriminated survivors from non-survivors. The presence of lactic acidosis could not always be recognized by customary acid-base parameters.
Conclusion: The stable equilibrium of acid-base disorders is lost when patients with cirrhosis become critically ill. Lactic acidosis and acidaemia are associated with increased ICU mortality caused by severe underlying organ dysfunction.