Cirrhotic cardiomyopathy

Hepatol Int. 2009 Mar;3(1):294-304. doi: 10.1007/s12072-008-9109-7. Epub 2008 Nov 11.


Cirrhotic cardiomyopathy is a recently recognized condition in cirrhosis consisting of systolic incompetence under condition of stress, diastolic dysfunction related to altered diastolic relaxation, and electrophysiological abnormalities in the absence of any known cardiac disease. It can be diagnosed by using a combination of electrocardiograph, 2-dimensional echocardiography, and various serum markers such as brain natriuretic factor. The underlying pathogenetic mechanisms include abnormalities in the beta-adrenergic signaling pathway, altered cardiomyocyte membrane fluidity, increased myocardial fibrosis, cardiomyocyte hypertrophy, and ion channel defects. Various compounds for which levels are elevated in cirrhosis such as nitric oxide and carbon monoxide can also exert a negative inotropic effect on the myocardium, whereas excess sodium and volume retention can lead to myocardial hypertrophy. Various toxins can also aggravate the ion channel defects, thereby widening the QRS complex causing prolonged QT intervals. Clinically, systolic incompetence is most evident when cirrhotic patients are placed under stress, whether physical or pharmacological, or when the extent of peripheral arterial vasodilatation demands an increased cardiac output as in the case of bacterial infections. Acute volume overload such as immediately after insertion of a transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt or after liver transplantation can also tip these cirrhotic patients into cardiac failure. Treatment of cirrhotic cardiomyopathy is unsatisfactory. There is some evidence that beta-blockade may help some cirrhotic patients with baseline prolonged QT interval. Long-term aldosterone antagonism may help reduce myocardial hypertrophy. Future studies should include further elucidation of pathogenetic mechanisms so as to develop effective treatment strategies.