J Clin Gastroenterol. 2021 May 24. doi: 10.1097/MCG.0000000000001568. Online ahead of print.
Acute on chronic liver failure (ACLF) is a unique syndrome that afflicts patients with chronic liver disease and results in high short-term mortality, in the setting of organ system failures. Given this prognosis, there is an urgent need to understand risk factors for this condition, for appropriate medical management of organ failures, and for selection criteria for patients who may benefit from liver transplantation (LT). Although several definitions exist to identify ACLF, all of them are designed to identify patients with uniquely high mortality. Currently, management of severe ACLF relies on best supportive care for specific organ failures. Thromboelastography should guide the evaluation of coagulation pathways and hyperfibrinolysis in ACLF; prophylactic blood product transfusions and thrombopoetin agonists are not recommended. Combination therapy with terlipressin and albumin has been shown to be efficacious in the management of the hepatorenal syndrome but should be administered with caution in patients with ACLF-3. Recent data have characterized the role of beta-blockers and transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt placement in the management of ACLF. Investigational therapies such as extracorporeal liver support and hepatocyte stem cell therapies have shown promise; larger scale studies may better define the subpopulations of patients with ACLF mostly likely to benefit from these evolving therapeutics. Regarding LT in ACLF, data suggest that even patients with 3 or more organ system failures may have a 1-year survival >80%. However, further efforts are needed to understand the predictors of post-LT survival to facilitate LT criteria for this condition.