Towards a new definition of decompensated cirrhosis

J Hepatol. 2022 Jan;76(1):202-207. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2021.06.018. Epub 2021 Jun 23.


There is a universal agreement that the occurrence of clinical complications, such as ascites, hepatic encephalopathy, gastrointestinal bleeding, and jaundice mark the transition from the compensated to the decompensated stage of cirrhosis. Decompensation is associated with a substantial worsening of patient prognosis and is therefore considered the most important stratification variable for the risk of death. However, this classification is an oversimplification, as it does not discriminate between the prognostic subgroups that characterise the course of decompensation, which depends on the type and number of decompensating events. A deeper insight into the clinical course of decompensated cirrhosis is provided by observational studies characterising acute decompensation (AD), which occurs mostly in patients who have already experienced decompensating events. Decompensation presents as AD in a portion of patients while in many others it presents as a slow development of ascites or mild grade 1 or 2 hepatic encephalopathy, or jaundice, not requiring hospitalisation. Thus, we propose that decompensation of cirrhosis occurs through 2 distinct pathways: a non-acute and an acute (which includes acute-on-chronic liver failure) pathway. Moreover, while non-acute decompensation is the most frequent pathway of the first decompensation, AD mostly represents further decompensation.

Keywords: acute decompensation; acute-on-chronic liver failure; ascites; bacterial infection; gastrointestinal bleeding; hepatic encephalopathy; jaundice; non acute decompensation; re-compensation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ascites / etiology
  • Ascites / physiopathology
  • Clinical Deterioration*
  • Fibrosis / complications
  • Fibrosis / physiopathology*
  • Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage / etiology
  • Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage / physiopathology
  • Hepatic Encephalopathy / etiology
  • Hepatic Encephalopathy / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Severity of Illness Index