Outcome of patients with cirrhosis admitted to intensive care

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Purpose of review

The incidence of cirrhosis is increasing exponentially and is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. This cirrhotic population is prone to infection, which is a frequent precipitant for the development of organ dysfunction; a syndrome often referred to as ‘acute-on-chronic’ liver failure. Historically, the perception of cirrhosis with organ dysfunction as having a poor prognosis has led to invariably iniquitous access to intensive care. Data to support this view, however, are lacking.

Recent findings

Acute variceal bleeding is associated with markedly improved survival and warrants organ support in intensive care. Survival correlates directly with the number of organs failing, with sepsis and multiorgan failure resulting in over 90% mortality. The requirement for renal replacement therapy confers a poor prognosis in patients not suitable for liver transplantation.


Admission to intensive care for many patients with cirrhosis is not futile, particularly for those with single organ dysfunction and acute variceal bleeding. It can be extremely challenging to manage patients with organ dysfunction and encephalopathy in a ward environment, and these patients frequently require, and indeed benefit from, augmented levels of care in high-dependency and intensive care environments.

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