Introduction: Hepatic dysfunction is a common finding in critically ill patients on the ICU and directly influences survival. Liver stiffness can be measured by the novel method of transient elastography (fibroscan) and is closely associated with hepatic fibrosis in patients with chronic liver disease, but also is increased in patients with acute hepatitis, acute liver failure and cholestasis. We investigated liver stiffness as a potentially useful tool for early detection of patients with hepatic deterioration and risk stratification with respect to short- and long-term mortality.
Methods: We prospectively evaluated 108 consecutive critically ill patients at our medical intensive care unit (ICU) with subsequent longitudinal liver stiffness measurements (admission, Day 3, Day 7 and weekly thereafter) during the course of ICU treatment. Outcome was followed after discharge (median observation time 237 days).
Results: Liver stiffness could be reliably measured in 71% of ICU patients at admission (65% at Day 3, 63% at Day 7). Critically ill patients (n = 108) had significantly increased liver stiffness compared to sex- and age-matched standard care patients (n = 25). ICU patients with decompensated cirrhosis showed highest liver stiffness, whereas other critical diseases (for example, sepsis) and comorbidities (for example, diabetes, obesity) did not impact stiffness values. At admission to the ICU, liver stiffness is closely related to hepatic damage (liver synthesis, cholestasis, fibrosis markers). During the course of ICU treatment, fluid overload (renal failure, volume therapy) and increased central venous pressure (mechanical ventilation, heart failure) were major factors determining liver stiffness. Liver stiffness values > 18 kilopascal (kPa) at ICU admission were associated with increased ICU and long-term mortality, even in non-cirrhotic patients.
Conclusions: Considering that liver stiffness cannot be validly measured in about 30% of ICU patients, transient elastography performed at ICU admission might be a useful tool to early identify liver dysfunction and predict mortality in critically ill patients at a medical ICU.