Management of critically-ill cirrhotic patients

J Hepatol. 2012:56 Suppl 1:S13-24. doi: 10.1016/S0168-8278(12)60003-8.


Cirrhotic patients are prone to develop life-threatening complications that require emergency care and ICU admission. They can present specific decompensations related to cirrhosis such as variceal bleeding and hepatorenal syndrome (HRS) or other critical events also observed in the general population such as severe sepsis or septic shock. Clinical management of all these entities requires a specific approach in cirrhosis. Cirrhotic patients have a hyperdynamic circulation with high cardiac output and low systemic vascular resistance in the absence of infection. Circulatory dysfunction increases the susceptibility of critically-ill cirrhotic patients to develop multiple organ failure and attenuates vascular reactivity to vasopressor drugs. HRS, a severe functional renal failure occurring in patients with advanced cirrhosis and ascites, is also secondary to this circulatory dysfunction that leads to an extreme renal vasoconstriction. Moreover, hypotensive cirrhotic patients require a carefully balanced replacement of volemia, since overtransfusion increases portal hypertension and the risk of variceal bleeding and undertransfusion causes tissue hypoperfusion which increases the risk of multiple organ failure. Cirrhotic patients are also at a high risk for development of other bleeding complications and are more susceptible to nosocomial infections. This extreme complexity of critically-ill cirrhotic patients requires a specific medical approach that should be known by general intensivists since it has a negative impact on patient prognosis. This review will focus on the diagnostic approach and treatment strategies currently recommended in the critical care management of patients with cirrhosis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acute Kidney Injury / diagnosis
  • Acute Kidney Injury / therapy
  • Critical Care*
  • Esophageal and Gastric Varices / complications
  • Esophageal and Gastric Varices / diagnosis
  • Esophageal and Gastric Varices / therapy
  • Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage / etiology
  • Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage / therapy
  • Hepatic Encephalopathy / therapy
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / therapy*
  • Liver Failure, Acute / therapy
  • Sepsis / diagnosis
  • Sepsis / therapy
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Shock, Septic / diagnosis
  • Shock, Septic / therapy