Update in intensive care medicine: acute liver failure. Initial management, supportive treatment and who to transplant

Chris Willars
Current Opinion in Critical Care 2014, 20 (2): 202-9

PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Acute liver failure (ALF) is associated with significant mortality. Although specific therapies may be available, the evidence base for these and for many aspects of supportive therapy has been slow to emerge. Liver transplantation continues to be a cornerstone of treatment, and the management of ALF, therefore, remains the domain of the specialist ICU. The purpose of this review is to identify and critically appraise the recent evidence and to inspire those who strive to provide excellent care for a difficult patient cohort.

RECENT FINDINGS: Effective vaccination programmes have reduced the incidence of viral hepatitis in Europe and the USA. Spontaneous survival has improved in causes such as acetaminophen toxicity. Early recognition and proactive intensive management have reduced the incidence of early neurological death. The use of artificial liver assist devices and therapeutic plasma exchange is controversial, yet intriguing, with some early evidence of efficacy.

SUMMARY: Increasingly sophisticated prognostication tools are evolving, which have the potential to transform clinical decision-making. A review of the indications for transplantation in acetaminophen toxicity is overdue. The use of therapeutic plasma exchange and extracorporeal liver support in ALF requires further investigation.

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