Acute Liver Failure –Is There a Role for Steroids?

The title is not a simple question.

Some who support the use of steroids (for acute liver failure) should remember Galen’s assertion about a different treatment, circa 100 AD:   “All who drink of this remedy recover in a short time except those whom it does not help, who all die. It is obvious, therefore, that it fails only in incurable cases.”

Two recent publications offer conflicting advice about steroids for acute liver failure (ALF):

  • Hepatology 2014; 59: 612-21.
  • J Pediatr 2014; 164: 407-409.

The first study involved a retrospective analysis of autoimmune, indeterminate, and drug-induced ALF from patients (n=361) prospectively enrolled in the ALF Study Group between 1998-2007.

  • Autoimmune, n=66, mean age 46 years
  • Indeterminate, n=164, mean age 39 years
  • Drug-induced, n=131, mean age 44 years

Outcomes:  Steroid use was associated with increased spontaneous survival (35% vs 23%) but this benefit did not persist with multivariate analysis.  In addition, steroid use was associated with lower survival in patients with the highest MELD scores. Furthermore, the authors discount the possibility of selection bias, noting that INR was higher in the no-steroid group.

In contrast, the second article, a case presentation/pediatric grand rounds article, states that “in our experience over the past decade, more than one-half of the children (56%) presenting with indeterminate acute hepatitis or ALF (after being evaluated) comprehensively …had a markedly elevated sIL-2R level (>5000 U/mL) concerning for immune activation but never fulfilling diagnostic criteria for HLH [hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis] during their course.”

Notably, of the patients presenting with elevation of sIL-2R to >5000 U/mL, most who survived with their native liver had received treatment with steroids.” (JPGN 2013; 56: 311-5.) “We propose that children presenting with indeterminate, progressive hepatitis or indeterminate ALF are candidates for prompt initiation of anti-inflammatory therapy when there is concomitant evidence of immune activation.”

In patients with ALF, part of the evaluation needs to include sIL-2R. Other assessments for immune dysregulation would include serum triglycerides, ferritin, “CD107a expression, perforin/granzyme B protein expression, and assessment for macrophage activation (soluble CD163).”

Bottomline: If HLH criteria are not met, but patients have marked elevation of sIL-2R (>5000 U/mL), empiric corticosteroids need to be considered. Perhaps there is a window of opportunity (before a patient develops a high MELD score).  At the same time, we need to acknowledge that our knowledge base remains incomplete and it is unclear whether this will improve the outcome.

Disclaimer: These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician.  This content is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a condition.

2 thoughts on “Acute Liver Failure –Is There a Role for Steroids?

  1. Pingback: Changing Approach to Neonatal Acute Liver Failure | gutsandgrowth

  2. Pingback: Acute Liver Failure -Pediatric ICU Management | gutsandgrowth

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