Hepatology

Is the use of albumin of value in the treatment of ascites in cirrhosis? The case in favour.

Laffi G, Gentilini P, Romanelli RG, La Villa G.
Dig Liver Dis. 2003 Sep;35(9):660-3.
Department of Internal Medicine, University of Florence School of Medicine, Viale Morgagni 85, 1-50134 Florence, Italy.

In patients with cirrhosis, ascites accumulates because of sodium retention, triggered by a reduction of the effective arterial blood volume, and imbalanced Starling forces in the splanchnic area due to portal hypertension and hypoalbuminemia. Albumin is the ideal plasma expander in this setting, since it ameliorates systemic and reneal haemodynamics, so reducing sodium retention, and increases oncotic pressure in the splanchnic compartment. In particular, albumin proved useful in patients treated with diuretics, as demonstrated by a randomised study performed at our Instituition in which 126 ascitic inpatients were treated according to a stepped-care diuretic regimen. In fact, patients receiving diuretics plus albumin (n = 63) had a higher cummulative rate of response (p < 0.05) and a shorter hospital stay (20 +/- 1 versus 24 +/- 2 days, p < 0.05) than those given diuretics alone. Treatment with albumin on an outpatient basis (25 g/week) resulted in a lower probability of developing ascites (p < 0.02 vs. patients not given albumin) and a lower probability of readmission (p < 0.02). Patients given albumin also had a better quality of life. As discussed in another article, evidence also supports the use of albumin in patients treated for paracentesis, as well as in patients with spontaneous peritonitis or hepatorenal syndrome.