Drug administration in chronic liver disease

Drug Saf. 1997 Jul;17(1):47-73. doi: 10.2165/00002018-199717010-00004.


Cirrhosis encompasses a range of pathophysiological changes that may alter drug disposition. Drugs that are dependent primarily on the liver for their systemic clearance are more likely to be subject to reduced elimination and subsequent accumulation. Drug accumulation may lead to excessive plasma drug concentrations and adverse effects, if the adverse effects of the drug are concentration-dependent. The effects of hepatic insufficiency on the pharmacokinetics of drugs are not consistent or predictable. Furthermore, the influence of hepatic disease on the disposition of various drugs can vary, even though those drugs may share the same apparent metabolic pathway. Problems in forecasting drug kinetic behaviour are further enhanced by the additional impairment of kidney function (frequently encountered in patients with advanced liver disease) and by the unpredictability of the glomerular filtration rate using customary methods in patients with cirrhosis. Accordingly, dosages are generally adapted empirically, with the help of serum drug concentrations, when applicable. However, drugs eliminated predominantly by hepatic metabolism are not among those most commonly inducing adverse drug reactions or causing severe complications in patients with cirrhosis. Electrolyte disturbances and the hepatorenal syndrome produced by furosemide (frusemide)-the disposition of which is not substantially modified in liver disease-appear to be the most frequent adverse drug reactions in patients with liver disease. Furthermore, clinically significant alterations in the action of medications at concentrations generally considered to be in the normal therapeutic range are not uncommon. Tissue responsiveness to the pharmacological action of some drugs may be modified, as evidenced by the increased susceptibility of the brain in patients with cirrhosis to the action of many psychoactive agents. Another example is the greater susceptibility of such patients to the nephrotoxic potential of aminogly-cosides, which should not be used in this patient group. Drugs may also interfere with adaptive physiological processes induced by liver disease. ACE inhibitors and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs counteract the enhanced activity of the renin-angiotensin system in advanced liver disease, thereby generating a high risk of excessive hypotension or acute renal failure, respectively. These drugs are best avoided in patients with cirrhosis. Finally, there may be pharmacological effects that overlap with some pathophysiological modifications related to the process of liver disease, such as increased portal pressure produced by some calcium antagonists, or hypoprothrombinaemia related to the inhibition of synthesis of vitamin K-dependent clotting factors by some beta-lactam antibacterials (especially moxalactam and cefamandole). Accordingly, the use of these drugs should be avoided in advanced liver disease. It is noteworthy that reduced drug metabolism in patients with liver disease does not seem to have a significant impact on the frequency of hepatotoxicity. Special caution should be exercised, however, in patients with alcoholic liver disease because excessive alcohol intake may potentiate the hepatotoxic effect of paracetamol (acetaminophen).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adverse Drug Reaction Reporting Systems
  • Biological Availability
  • Drug Interactions
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions*
  • Glomerular Filtration Rate / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Kidney Diseases / drug therapy
  • Kidney Diseases / physiopathology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / drug therapy*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / metabolism
  • Pharmacokinetics*
  • Risk Assessment