Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis in the Medical ICU: A Single-Institution Cohort Study on Acute Liver Failure and Mortality

Crit Care Explor. 2021 Jan 8;3(1):e0318. doi: 10.1097/CCE.0000000000000318. eCollection 2021 Jan.


Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis is a life-threatening hyperinflammatory disorder that is associated with high morbidity and mortality in the ICU. It has also been associated with acute liver failure.

Design: Retrospective observational study.

Setting: Tertiary-care medical ICU.

Patients: Thirty-one patients critically ill with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis.

Interventions: None.

Measurements and main results: We performed a comprehensive review of critically ill hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis patients admitted to a tertiary-care medical ICU from January 2012 to December 2018. Most patients presented with constitutional symptoms and elevated liver enzymes and thrombocytopenia were common upon hospital admission. ICU admission laboratory and clinical variables were used to calculate Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II, hemophagocytic syndrome diagnostic score, and model for end-stage liver disease. Mean age of the cohort was 48.1 years, and 45% were male. The mortality rate was 65% at 28 days and 77% at 1 year. About 28-day survivors were younger, had lower mean Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II score (16.5 vs 23.0; p = 0.004), and higher mean hemophagocytic syndrome diagnostic score (249.1 vs 226.0; p = 0.032) compared with nonsurvivors. Survivors were less likely to receive mechanical ventilation, renal replacement therapy, or vasopressor support and were more likely to receive chemotherapy for hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. In this ICU cohort, 29% were diagnosed with acute liver failure, of whom only 22% developed acute liver failure early during their hospital stay. Acute liver failure was associated with a higher model for end-stage liver disease score upon hospital admission. Available histology in those that developed acute liver failure showed massive hepatic necrosis, or histiocytic or lymphocytic infiltrates.

Conclusions: Patients admitted to the ICU with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis have a high mortality. Those who survived had lower Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation scores, had higher hemophagocytic syndrome diagnostic scores, are more likely to receive hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis specific chemotherapy, and are less likely to have organ failure. Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis can be associated with acute liver failure especially when model for end-stage liver disease score is elevated upon admission.

Keywords: hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis; hemophagocytic syndrome; hemophagocytic syndrome diagnostic score; intensive care unit mortality; liver failure; model for end-stage liver disease.