Treatment with non-selective beta blockers is associated with reduced severity of systemic inflammation and improved survival of patients with acute-on-chronic liver failure

J Hepatol. 2016 Mar;64(3):574-82. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2015.10.018. Epub 2015 Oct 28.


Background & aims: Non-selective beta blockers (NSBBs) have been shown to have deleterious outcomes in patients with refractory ascites, alcoholic hepatitis and spontaneous bacterial peritonitis leading many physicians to stop the drug in these cases. Acute-on-chronic liver failure (ACLF) is characterized by systemic inflammation and high mortality. As NSBBs may have beneficial effects on gut motility and permeability and, systemic inflammation, the aims of this prospective, observational study were to determine whether ongoing use of NSBBs reduced 28-day mortality in ACLF patients.

Methods: The study was performed in 349 patients with ACLF included in the CANONIC study, which is a prospective observational investigation in hospitalized cirrhotic patients with acute deterioration. The data about the use of NSBBs, its type and dosage was specifically recorded. Patient characteristics at enrollment significantly associated with treatment and mortality were taken into account as potential confounders to adjust for treatment effect. A logistic regression model was fitted.

Results: 164 (47%) ACLF patients received NSBBs whereas 185 patients did not. Although the CLIF-C ACLF scores were similar at presentation, more patients in the NSBB treated group had lower grades of ACLF (p=0.047) at presentation and significantly more patients improved. Forty patients (24.4%) died in NSBB treated group compared with 63 patients (34.1%) (p=0.048) [estimated risk-reduction 0.596 (95%CI: 0.361-0.985; p=0.0436)]. This improvement in survival was associated with a significantly lower white cell count (NSBB: 8.5 (5.8); no NSBB: 10.8 (6.6); p=0.002). No long-term improvement in survival was observed.

Conclusions: This study shows for the first time that ongoing treatment with NSBBs in cirrhosis is safe and reduces the mortality if they develop ACLF. Careful thought should be given before stopping NSBBs in cirrhotic patients.

Keywords: Acute-on-chronic liver failure; Cirrhosis; Multi-organ failure; Non-selective beta blockers; Prognosis; Sepsis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute-On-Chronic Liver Failure / blood
  • Acute-On-Chronic Liver Failure / drug therapy*
  • Acute-On-Chronic Liver Failure / mortality
  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / drug therapy*
  • Inflammation / mortality
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies


  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists