Hepatology

Update on ascites and hepatorenal syndrome.

Gentilini P, Vizzutti F, Gentilini A, Zipoli M, Foschi M, Romanelli RG.

Dig Liver Dis 2002 Aug;34(8):592-605

Department of Internal Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Florence, Florence Italy. p.gentilini@dmi.unifi.it

Ascites is the most common complication occurring during liver cirrhosis. Even if a significant decrease in renal clearance may be observed in the first step of chronic active liver disease, renal impairment, at times complicated by the typical signs of hepatorenal syndrome, occurs only in patients with ascites, especially when tense and refractory. Experimental and clinical data seem to suggest a primary sodium and water retention in the pathogenesis of ascites, in the presence of an intrahepatic increase of hydrostatic pressure, which, by itself, physiologically occurs during digestion. Abnormal sodium and water handling leads to plasma volume expansion, followed by decreased peripheral vascular resistance and increased cardiac output. This second step is in agreement with the peripheral arterial vasodilation hypothesis, depicted by an increase in total blood volume, but with a decreased effective arterial blood volume. This discrepancy leads to the activation of the sympathetic nervous and renin-angiotensin-aldosterone systems associated with the progressive activation of the renal autacoid systems, especially, that of the arachidonic acid. During advanced cirrhosis, renal impairment becomes more sustained and renal autacoid vasodilating substances are less available, possibly due to a progressive exhaustion of these systems. At the same time ascites becomes refractory inasmuch as it is no longer responsive to diuretic treatment. Various pathogenetic mechanisms leading to refractory ascites are mentioned. Finally, several treatment approaches to overcome the reduced effectiveness of diuretic therapy are cited. Paracentesis, together with simultaneous administration of human albumin or other plasma expanders is the main common approach to treat refractory ascites and to avoid a further decrease in renal failure. Other effective tools are: administration of terlipressin together with albumin, implantation of the Le Veen shunt, surgical porto-systemic shunting or transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic stent-shunt, or orthotopic liver transplantation, according to the conditions of the individual patient.