Pharmacokinetics and dosage adjustment in patients with hepatic dysfunction

Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 2008 Dec;64(12):1147-61. doi: 10.1007/s00228-008-0553-z. Epub 2008 Sep 2.


The liver plays a central role in the pharmacokinetics of the majority of drugs. Liver dysfunction may not only reduce the blood/plasma clearance of drugs eliminated by hepatic metabolism or biliary excretion, it can also affect plasma protein binding, which in turn could influence the processes of distribution and elimination. Portal-systemic shunting, which is common in advanced liver cirrhosis, may substantially decrease the presystemic elimination (i.e., first-pass effect) of high extraction drugs following their oral administration, thus leading to a significant increase in the extent of absorption. Chronic liver diseases are associated with variable and non-uniform reductions in drug-metabolizing activities. For example, the activity of the various CYP450 enzymes seems to be differentially affected in patients with cirrhosis. Glucuronidation is often considered to be affected to a lesser extent than CYP450-mediated reactions in mild to moderate cirrhosis but can also be substantially impaired in patients with advanced cirrhosis. Patients with advanced cirrhosis often have impaired renal function and dose adjustment may, therefore, also be necessary for drugs eliminated by renal exctretion. In addition, patients with liver cirrhosis are more sensitive to the central adverse effects of opioid analgesics and the renal adverse effects of NSAIDs. In contrast, a decreased therapeutic effect has been noted in cirrhotic patients with beta-adrenoceptor antagonists and certain diuretics. Unfortunately, there is no simple endogenous marker to predict hepatic function with respect to the elimination capacity of specific drugs. Several quantitative liver tests that measure the elimination of marker substrates such as galactose, sorbitol, antipyrine, caffeine, erythromycin, and midazolam, have been developed and evaluated, but no single test has gained widespread clinical use to adjust dosage regimens for drugs in patients with hepatic dysfunction. The semi-quantitative Child-Pugh score is frequently used to assess the severity of liver function impairment, but only offers the clinician rough guidance for dosage adjustment because it lacks the sensitivity to quantitate the specific ability of the liver to metabolize individual drugs. The recommendations of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Evaluation Agency (EMEA) to study the effect of liver disease on the pharmacokinetics of drugs under development is clearly aimed at generating, if possible, specific dosage recommendations for patients with hepatic dysfunction. However, the limitations of the Child-Pugh score are acknowledged, and further research is needed to develop more sensitive liver function tests to guide drug dosage adjustment in patients with hepatic dysfunction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • Inactivation, Metabolic
  • Liver Diseases* / metabolism
  • Liver Diseases* / physiopathology
  • Liver* / enzymology
  • Liver* / metabolism
  • Liver* / physiopathology
  • Metabolic Clearance Rate
  • Models, Biological
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations* / administration & dosage
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations* / blood
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations* / metabolism
  • Pharmacokinetics*


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System