The aim of this study was to analyse the causes of death after liver transplantation in order to find and to avoid preventable fatal complications if possible.
Methods: Between September 1988 and September 1993 415 orthotopic liver transplantations in 382 patients were performed at the Rudolf Virchow University Hospital in Berlin. During the same interval 41 (10.7%) of these patients died. Their clinical records were reviewed.
Results: The main cause of death was infection (29.3%), followed by recurrent malignancy (21.9%). Less patients died because of hepatitis B-reinfection (14.6%), chronic rejection (7.3%), hemorrhage (7.3%), cardiac failure (7.3%), trauma (4.8%), hypoxia (4.8%) and recurrence of alcoholic liver disease (4.8%). There was a wide spectrum of opportunistic infectious agents with CMV and Pneumocystis carinii being the most important pathogenic organisms. Only one isolated bacterial infection as principle cause of death was found. In all fatal infections the lung was the primary site of infection, 7 patients additionally developed sepsis. Altogether 75 patients (19.6%) with hepatitis B-cirrhosis were transplanted. Six of them (8%) developed a fatal hepatitis B-reinfection. Malignancy was the indication for OLT in 41 patients (10.7%). Six of these patients (14.6%) died because of recurrent tumor. Regarding the whole series, most deaths occurred four to twelve months (58.5%) and only five (12.2%) during the first month after OLT.
Conclusion: Recurrence of primary disease is an important factor regarding total mortality. Therefore it is necessary to practise a careful selection of liver transplant recipients. In the future more attention needs to be drawn towards prevention, identification and management of opportunistic infections.