Background/aims: Acute liver failure (ALF) is a rare but severe medical emergency. To date, there is no established treatment for non-acetaminophen-induced acute liver failure (NAI-ALF) other than liver transplantation, and little is known about the use of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) in NAI-ALF. A randomized case control study was conducted with the aim to determine the effect of NAC on the mortality of NAI-ALF patients, as well as to evaluate the safety and efficacy of NAC use.
Patients and methods: A total of 80 patients diagnosed with NAI-ALF were included in the study. Forty patients received NAC infusion for 72 h whereas the control group received placebo. The variables evaluated were demographic characteristics, signs and symptoms, biochemical parameters, and clinical course during hospitalization.
Results: The two groups (NAC and control) were comparable for various baseline characteristics (such as etiology of ALF, INR, alanine aminotransferase, creatinine, albumin, and grade of encephalopathy), except for age. Although majority of patients had undetermined etiology (32.5% in NAC group and 42.5% in control group), the second main cause was acute hepatitis E and drug or toxin-induced ALF. The mortality decreased to 28% with the use of NAC versus 53% in the control group (P = 0.023). The use of NAC was associated with shorter length of hospital stay in survived patients (P = 0.002). Moreover, the survival of patients was improved by NAC (P = 0.025). Also, drug-induced ALF showed improved outcome compared to other etiologies.
Conclusion: The findings of the study recommend the use of NAC along with conventional treatments in patients with NAI-ALF in non-transplant centers while awaiting referrals and conclude the use of NAC as safe.