Acid-base status and its clinical implications in critically ill patients with cirrhosis, acute-on-chronic liver failure and without liver disease

Ann Intensive Care. 2018 Apr 19;8(1):48. doi: 10.1186/s13613-018-0391-9.


Background: Acid-base disturbances are frequently observed in critically ill patients at the intensive care unit. To our knowledge, the acid-base profile of patients with acute-on-chronic liver failure (ACLF) has not been evaluated and compared to critically ill patients without acute or chronic liver disease.

Results: One hundred and seventy-eight critically ill patients with liver cirrhosis were compared to 178 matched controls in this post hoc analysis of prospectively collected data. Patients with and without liver cirrhosis showed hyperchloremic acidosis and coexisting hypoalbuminemic alkalosis. Cirrhotic patients, especially those with ACLF, showed a marked net metabolic acidosis owing to increased lactate and unmeasured anions. This metabolic acidosis was partly antagonized by associated respiratory alkalosis, yet with progression to ACLF resulted in acidemia, which was present in 62% of patients with ACLF grade III compared to 19% in cirrhosis patients without ACLF. Acidemia and metabolic acidosis were associated with 28-day mortality in cirrhosis. Patients with pH values < 7.1 showed a 100% mortality rate. Acidosis attributable to lactate and unmeasured anions was independently associated with mortality in liver cirrhosis.

Conclusions: Cirrhosis and especially ACLF are associated with metabolic acidosis and acidemia owing to lactate and unmeasured anions. Acidosis and acidemia, respectively, are associated with increased 28-day mortality in liver cirrhosis. Lactate and unmeasured anions are main contributors to metabolic imbalance in cirrhosis and ACLF.

Keywords: Acid–base; Acute-on-chronic liver failure; Cirrhosis; Mortality.