Acute liver failure in Scotland: changes in aetiology and outcomes over time (the Scottish Look-Back Study)

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Abstract

Background

Acute liver failure is a rare and devastating clinical condition resulting from sudden loss of hepatic parenchyma and metabolic function. The Scottish Liver Transplant Unit (SLTU) offers specialist management and emergency liver transplantation to patients with acute liver failure from across Scotland.

Aim

To describe temporal changes in number of admissions, aetiology of acute liver failure, severity of disease at presentation and outcomes over a 22-year period.

Methods

Retrospective analysis of the SLTU database, including all patients admitted with acute liver injury or acute liver failure between November 1992 and March 2014.

Results

There has been no change in the number of patients presenting with acute liver injury or failure secondary to paracetamol overdose, but a reduction in the number of admissions with acute liver injury or failure secondary to non paracetamol causes. Over time, disease severity at presentation has not changed in the paracetamol cohort; those with a non paracetamol aetiology have latterly presented with milder hepatic encephalopathy. Spontaneous survival rates improved significantly over time for those patients with acute liver failure due to paracetamol and non paracetamol aetiologies. The most marked improvement in survival is observed in the sickest patients meeting Kings College Hospital poor prognostic criteria.

Conclusions

The number of admissions to the SLTU with acute liver failure is decreasing, due to reduced numbers of non paracetamol cases. Outcomes in this condition are improving, due to improvements in intensive care management and use of liver transplantation, and the increase in survival is most marked in patients meeting Kings College Hospital poor prognostic criteria.

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