Acid-base disorders in liver disease

J Hepatol. 2017 Nov;67(5):1062-1073. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2017.06.023. Epub 2017 Jul 3.


Alongside the kidneys and lungs, the liver has been recognised as an important regulator of acid-base homeostasis. While respiratory alkalosis is the most common acid-base disorder in chronic liver disease, various complex metabolic acid-base disorders may occur with liver dysfunction. While the standard variables of acid-base equilibrium, such as pH and overall base excess, often fail to unmask the underlying cause of acid-base disorders, the physical-chemical acid-base model provides a more in-depth pathophysiological assessment for clinical judgement of acid-base disorders, in patients with liver diseases. Patients with stable chronic liver disease have several offsetting acidifying and alkalinising metabolic acid-base disorders. Hypoalbuminaemic alkalosis is counteracted by hyperchloraemic and dilutional acidosis, resulting in a normal overall base excess. When patients with liver cirrhosis become critically ill (e.g., because of sepsis or bleeding), this fragile equilibrium often tilts towards metabolic acidosis, which is attributed to lactic acidosis and acidosis due to a rise in unmeasured anions. Interestingly, even though patients with acute liver failure show significantly elevated lactate levels, often, no overt acid-base disorder can be found because of the offsetting hypoalbuminaemic alkalosis. In conclusion, patients with liver diseases may have multiple co-existing metabolic acid-base abnormalities. Thus, knowledge of the pathophysiological and diagnostic concepts of acid-base disturbances in patients with liver disease is critical for therapeutic decision making.

Keywords: Acid-base disorders; Acute liver failure; Cirrhosis; Critically-ill; Liver disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acid-Base Imbalance* / diagnosis
  • Acid-Base Imbalance* / etiology
  • Critical Illness*
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Liver Diseases* / complications
  • Liver Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Liver Diseases* / metabolism
  • Liver Diseases* / physiopathology
  • Liver Function Tests / methods