How Reliable is an Acetaminophen Level in Patients with Acetaminophen Overdose?

A recent study (TM Leventhal et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2019; 17: 2110-6) provides more data indicating that acetaminophen levels are frequently undetectable even in patients suspected of developing acute liver failure (ALF) due to acetaminophen overdose.

The authors performed a retrospective study with 434 subjects from the ALF study group who met criteria for either ALF (coagulopathy and hepatic encephalopathy w/in 26 weeks of first symptoms) or Acute Liver Injury (ALI) (severe liver injury with coagulopathy but no encephalopathy).  In this group, all of the patients had liver disease attributed to acetaminophen (APAP) toxicity.

Key findings:

  • 227 patients (52%) had undetectable acetaminophen levels
  • Transplant-free survival rate was 79.5% (including both ALF and ALI patients)
  • APAP-protein adduct data was available for 37 patients in cohort; all patients with this assay had evidence of APAP toxicity regardless of whether APAP level was detected

Discussion Points:

  • Symptoms from APAP toxicity frequently emerge >24 hours after ingestion.  APAP, though, has a short half-life, approximately 2-2.5 hours.  Thus, most patients will have APAP clearance from plasma in 18 hours
  • Unintentional overdose, often with multiple doses over therapeutic limit of 4 g/day (in adults), more frequently is associated with an undetectable APAP level than a single large intentional overdose which results in a higher peak level

My take: This study shows that APAP levels are unreliable in determining APAP ingestions and not predictive of ALF.  The use of N-acetylcysteine should not be determined by APAP levels in patients with suspected overdose.

Related blog posts:

Disclaimer: These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications/diets (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician/nutritionist.  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

Atlanta Botanical Garden

#NASPGHAN19 Liver Symposium (Part 2)

Although I was unable to attend this year’s liver symposium at NASPGHAN19, I reviewed the lecture notes.  There is some terrific content.  Here are some of the slides (borrowed with permission from NASPGHAN).

Link to complete NASPGHAN Chronic Liver Disease Symposium 2019


Keynote Speaker: Outcomes for the future: How do we improve on the status quo? Ronald J. Sokol, MD, FAASLD, Children’s Hospital Colorado  (SLIDES NOT AVAILABLE in onliine handout)

Recognition and stabilization of the pediatric patient with acute liver failure Robert Squires MD Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at UPMC

Should I offer treatment for my patients with Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C? Regino P. Gonzalez-Peralta MD, AdventHealth for Children

Are there any medical therapies for NASH?   Marialena Mouzaki, MD, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

This lecture describes a lot of the emerging pharmacologic treatments; none of these are currently recommended.

Hereditary Fructose Intolerance

A recent case series (Li H, A Diaz-Kuan, M Vos et al. Mol Genet Metab. 2018 Apr;123(4):428-432) highlights the importance of dietary history in infants with liver failure (abstract below).  Congratulations to my colleague Miriam Vos one of the coauthors.

Commentary on this publication from Emory News (from Kipp Ellsworth’s twitter feed):

Babies with inherited intolerance of fructose face a risk of acute liver failure if they are fed certain widely available formulas containing fructose, pediatricians and geneticists are warning. Baby formula manufacturers should remove fructose or sucrose, or explicitly label their products to allow parents to avoid those sweeteners if necessary, the doctors say.

In a recent paper in Molecular Genetics and Metabolism, Emory geneticists Hong Li, MD, PhD and Michael Gambello, MD, PhD together with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta pediatric hepatologist Miriam Vos, MD and colleagues report four cases of hereditary fructose intolerance (HFI), all diagnosed in early infants. All had acute liver failure that resolved when the infants switched to formula without fructose.

HFI is estimated to occur in 1 out of 20,000 live births. It comes from mutations in the aldolase B gene, resulting in an inability to metabolize fructose. Early symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and failure of an infant to gain weight. If unrecognized, HFI can result in liver and kidney damage, seizures or death.

HFI-related problems do not appear if an infant is being breastfed exclusively. It is normally recognized when fructose-containing solid foods, such as fruit, are introduced into the diet several months after birth. However, some baby formulas – often soy-based – contain sweeteners such as high-fructose corn syrup or sucrose (table sugar), which is made of fructose and glucose linked together. Sometimes, the label only says “sugar” instead of sucrose…

Since HFI is a treatable disease, Li urges pediatricians to consider HFI as a potential diagnosis if there is a feeding problem, elevated transaminase enzymes or jaundice (a sign of liver damage) and the infant has been fed formula containing fructose or sucrose.

Some information about a young patient’s condition can be obtained from urine carbohydrate tests, but the only way to confirm HFI is by genetic sequencing.


Hereditary fructose intolerance (HFI) is an autosomal recessive disorder caused by aldolase B (ALDOB) deficiency resulting in an inability to metabolize fructose. The toxic accumulation of intermediate fructose-1-phosphate causes multiple metabolic disturbances, including postprandial hypoglycemia, lactic acidosis, electrolyte disturbance, and liver/kidney dysfunction. The clinical presentation varies depending on the age of exposure and the load of fructose. Some common infant formulas contain fructose in various forms, such as sucrose, a disaccharide of fructose and glucose. Exposure to formula containing fructogenic compounds is an important, but often overlooked trigger for severe metabolic disturbances in HFI. Here we report four neonates with undiagnosed HFI, all caused by the common, homozygous mutation c.448G>C (p.A150P) in ALDOB, who developed life-threatening acute liver failure due to fructose-containing formulas. These cases underscore the importance of dietary history and consideration of HFI in cases of neonatal or infantile acute liver failure for prompt diagnosis and treatment of HFI.

Related blog post: Changing Approach to Neonatal Acute Liver Failure

Chattahoochee River Near Island Ford


Acute Liver Failure -Pediatric ICU Management

Full Text Link: Intensive Care Management of Acute Liver Failure

This article provides a very good overview of this topic starting withe diagnosis, epidemiology and proceeding to specific management issues/outcomes.

Table 1 reviews etiologies –indeterminant is most common. Table 2 shown below reviews management principles and Table 3 reviews specific treatments based on etiology. Table 4 reviews grades of encephalopathy.

My take (from authors): “Despite recent advances in supportive care and the improvements in outcomes observed…the practical intensive care management of PALF remains poorly defined…Current treatment options are merely supportive and based on incomplete adult data and local institutional experience.”

Related blog posts:

March 2017 Briefs

MC Montana, AS Evers. J Pediatr 2017; 181: 279-84. This commentary reviewed recent studies regarding anesthetic neurotoxicity. “Two recently published human studies suggest a lack of harm in otherwise-healthy children following a short duration anesthetic (approximately 1 hour)” References: Lancet 2016; 387: 239-50 & JAMA 2016; 315: 2312-20.

Related posts:

NR Santucci et al. JPGN 2017; 64: 186-93.  This systematic review selected 31 studies (out of 916 citations) and found there is no consensus concerning diagnostic criteria for biliary dyskinesia and the data supporting the concept of biliary dyskinesia in children is weak.  The uncontrolled studies were generally observational, retrospective designs with relatively small numbers.

Related posts

I Youngster et al. J Pediatr 2017; 182: 239-44.  This study examined large prescription databases (more than 74 million person years) and identified wide discrepancy in antibiotic use among the six different countries.  For example, among children less than 2 years of age, South Korea had the highest rate of antimicrobial use, with 3.41 prescribed courses per child-year; in contrast, the rates were 1.4 in Italy, 1.5 in Spain, 1.1 in the U.S., 1.0 in Germany, and 0.5 in Norway.

A Srivastavai et al. JPGN 2017; 64: 194-9. In this retrospective study with 262 children with liver disease-related ascites, the authors found spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (or culture-negattive neurocytic ascites) in 28.6%. Half of these patients were asymptomatic.  SBP/CNNA was defined by having a polymorphonuclear leukocyte count of >250 cells/mm3.  There was a 24% one-year mortality rate for those who had SBP/CNNA.

MR Narkewicz et al. JPGN 2017; 64: 210-7. Using data from the pediatric acute liver failure group, the researchers identified a high rate of autoantibodies (28%) among 986 pediatric subjects with acute liver failure. The presence of autoantibodies was not significantly associate with 21-day outcomes and steroid treatment was not associated with survival; in fact, those without a known diagnosis of autoimmune hepatitis, had a higher risk of death with steroid therapy. In the setting of acute liver failure, autoantibody positivity does not obviate the need for a complete diagnostic workup.

A Lauterio et al. Liver Transplantation 2017; 23: 184-93.  Italian review of living donor safety found that major complications occurred in 12.6% (31 or 246)  but there were no mortalities. 5 (2%) required reoperation.


from Twitter's 'This Week in Church Signs' feed

from Twitter’s ‘This Week in Church Signs’ feed

NASPGHAN Postgraduate Course 2014 -Liver Module

This blog entry has abbreviated/summarized the presentations. Though not intentional, some important material is likely to have been omitted; in addition, transcription errors are possible as well.  I’ve attached the course syllabus as well:

PG Course Syllabus – FINAL

Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis –Dennis Black (Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital)

  • Up-to-date review provided
  • GWAS (genome-wide association study) identified 16 significant risk loci which account for only 7.3% of overall risk; environmental influences need to be worked out
  • Pediatric studies –total of 328 patients reported to date

Is pediatric disease the same disease as in adults?

  • Incidence in pediatrics: 0.23/100,000 incidence vs 1.1/100,000 in adults
  • Mean age at diagnosis 13 years in pediatrics.
  • 30% of pediatric patients have overlap with autoimmune hepatitis which is higher than in adult patients.

Other pointers:

  •  Discussed “Autoimmune cholangitis.” Imaging needed in autoimmune hepatitis to look for primary sclerosing cholangitis.
  • IBD Association with PSC: IBD occurs in about 55% of PSC patients. If PSC diagnosed first, usually with right-sided colitis.  If IBD diagnosed first, than pancolitis is more commonly noted.
  • Add IgG4 as part of workup to rule out IgG4 cholangiopathy (sensitive to immunosuppression).


  • Supportive care for cholestasis (vitamins, pruritus management, etc
  • Monitoring for complications (rare cases of cholangiocarcinoma in pediatric population).  14 drugs tested to date –mainly in adults.  “All without proven positive impact on long-term outcome.”
  • Ursodeoxycholic acid –widely used but controversial because higher doses associated with worsened outcomes in adult study (Lindor et al).  Ongoing study in pediatric population with ursodeoxycholic acid.
  • Vancomycin (Aliment Pharm 37: 2013; 604.  Adults n=35). Both Flagyl and Vanc seemed to be helpful. Uncontrolled pediatric studies with vancomycin reviewed. Vancomycin study in the works for pediatric/adults.
  • No prospective randomized controlled trials in children and very little data in adults. Hard endpoints –very difficult in children/not practical in children (eg. portal hypertension, transplant, death).

PSC and Transplantation: PSC 2.6% of total transplants –long-term outcome is similar.

Related Blog Posts:

The Jaundiced Infant –Saul Karpen (Emory)

  •  “We don’t estimate jaundice very well… Our eyes do an awful job.”
  • Breastmilk Jaundice: Archives of Disease in Childhood 1978; 53: 506-16.  Only 12 of 853 had jaundice beyond 3 weeks of life.
  • Cholestasis. One of the best studies looking at etiology was recently published:  Hoerning A, et al Front Pediatr. 2014; 2: 65. N=82.  Only 1 patient had CMV.  41% had biliary atresia.

Biliary atresia (BA):

  • Reviewed study indicating that liver biopsy was most accurate means of making diagnosis of biliary atresia (blog comment: this study result may not be accurate in all settings as the interpretation relies on the ability/reliability of pathologist).  High utility of stool pigment & ultrasound (including flow).
  • In retrospective study (Pediatrics 2011; 128 e1428-33), all the BA patients had elevated direct bilirubin by 24-48 hrs of life.
  • Genetic panels and whole exome sequencing (~$4-7K) are happening now. Cost-effective.

Take-home message: Molecular understanding possible for conjugated/unconjugated hyperbilirubinemias. Direct bilirubin >1 is abnormal

Related blog posts:

Acute Liver Failure –Estella Alonso (Children’s Hospital of Chicago) (pg 43)


  • Few patients receive a full diagnostic workup (J Pediatr 2009;155:801‐6)–especially with regard to metabolic and autoimmune disorders.
  • Reviewed etiologies –most frequently “indeterminant” especially in younger patients.  Acetaminophen is most frequent etiology in teenagers and adults.
  • Systemic inflammation is common in acute liver failure (Bucuvalas, J JPGN 2013;56: 311–315). Soluble IL2 receptor alpha –significantly higher in patients that died.  Immune regulation important aspect regarding survival. Should steroids be used in cases with high inflammation?

Prognosis: Squires et al. J Pediatr 2006;148:652-8, Lee et al. JPGN 2005;40:575-81, Baliga et al. Liver Transpl 2004;10:1364-71

  • 33% ‐53% survival with native liver
  • 61% survival including LT
  • 70%‐80% after LT
  • Multiorgan failure is most common etiology of death. Bleeding is “a rare cause of mortality.”


  • Reviewed including coagulopathy/bleeding, cardiovascular collapse, hepatic encephalopathy/cerebral edema
  • Pediatric N-acetylcysteine Trial Squires, et al Hepatology 2013;57:1542‐9 N=182.  Patients with NAC seemed to do worse, but not statistically proven.  This study has stopped the widespread use of NAC in acute liver failure.
  • Discussed approach to neurological complications in ALF. Hussain et al, JPGN 2014;58:449‐56. Retrospective study (n=18). Early EEGs obtained. Hypertonic saline may be more effective than mannitol.  Hypothermia may be helpful adjunct.
  • Timing of Transplantation discussed (pg 54 in syllabus). Difficult to predict spontaneous survival.

Related blog posts:

Disclaimer: These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications/diets (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician/nutritionist.  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.

This Year's Pumpkin

This Year’s Pumpkin

Link to NASPGHAN Lectures and Postgraduate Course

Later this week, our national pediatric GI meeting (North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology Hepatology and Nutrition) is starting in Atlanta.  Many in my group are involved and presenting.

The following link (with permission from NASPGHAN) is to the website with links to all of these lectures:

NASPGHAN 2014 Atlanta meeting

For those interested only in the Syllabus for the Postgraduate Course:  NASPGHAN 2014 Postgraduate Course.

Topics include in this 200 page (online) book: primary sclerosing cholangitis, jaundiced infant, acute liver failure, “dreaded” endoscopy wake up calls, endoscopy for biliary tract disease, extraesophageal manifestations of gastroesophageal reflux, constipation, eosinophilic esophagitis, motility disorders, FODMAPs diet, nutrition for neurologically impaired, early onset inflammatory bowel disease, “luminitis” due to non-IBD causes, new IBD treatments, and diet-microbiome.

Should be great!

Also, to plan your meeting -go to NASPGHAN home page and use mobile guidebook: NASPGHAN 2014 has gone mobile using Guidebook!

OTCD –Another Reason for Acute Liver Failure

A recent study shows that a significant number of patients with Ornithine Transcarbamylase Deficiency (OTCD), which is the most common urea cycle defect (UCD), can present with significant hepatic involvement and even acute liver failure (ALF) (J Pediatr 2014; 164: 720-25).

This retrospective study reviewed 71 patients with OTCD at 2 centers.  Longitudinal data collected over 10 years was analyzed.

Key result:

  • 57% of the 49 patients with symptomatic OTCD had liver involvement and 29% of these patients met criteria for ALF

“Although the urea cycle enzymes are active in the liver, standard liver function generally has been considered to be largely unaffected in UCD.”   This study shows that this concept is mistaken.OTCD has been viewed mainly as a disorder that presents with marked hyperammonemia in the newborn period.  However, there is variable clinical expression and some may remain asymptomatic throughout their lifetime.

Take-home message: Check plasma amino acids, urine organic acids and urine orotic acids when patients do not have an established etiology for hepatic dysfunction, including ALF.


Related blog posts:

Living on MARS

As anyone who follows this blog knows, I really like good acronyms.  MARS which stands for molecular adsorbents recirculating system is another good one.  Data regarding the use of MARS for acute liver failure (ALF) due to Wilson disease in children has been recently reported (JPGN 2014; 58: 160-64, editorial 140-41).

Background: MARS is a form of dialysis to remove albumin-bound toxins via a specialized membrane. MARS has been studied as a potential bridge to liver transplantation or as a support to try to avoid liver transplantation in some cases.

The present study with only four children is not terribly informative.  However, both the article and the editorial provide references on small randomized controlled trials which concur with the conclusions of the authors that “biological and clinical improvement is demonstrated in the MARS treatment group compared with the standard medical treatment group.”  Yet, recent large multicenter randomized controlled trials are inconclusive with regard to whether MARS improves survival.

Bottomline (from editorial): “MARS does not prevent transplantation, and survival outcome post transplantation is unclear.  There is no robust evidence to justify the financial implications of this intervention in a clinical setting. The present role of MARS remains within the research setting.”

Liver Update: Headlines and Links Only

  1. From AGA: Hepatic failure flagged as unexpected boceprevir safety signal in adverse event review. GI & Hep News: 
  2. From NY Times: Spike in Harm to Liver Is Tied to Dietary Aids 
  3. From Jeff Schwimmer (The Liver Post): First case report of Liver Cancer in a child with Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. He is only 7 years-old. 
  4. “Recurrence of Hepatopulmonary Syndrome Post-Orthotopic Liver Transplantation in a Patient with Noncirrhotic Portal Hypertension” Hepatology 2013; 58: 2205-06.
  5. “Management of Hepatitis B: Our Practice and How It Relates to the Guidelines” Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2014; 12: 16-26.  Terrific review and insights.
  6. “Acute Liver Failure” NEJM 2013; 369: 2525-34.
  7. “Cesarean Section Reduces Perinatal Transmission of Hepatitis B Virus Infection from Hepatitis B Surface Antigen-Positive Women to Their Infants” Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2013; 11: 1349-55. Retrospective, nonrandomized study -“performing elective cesarean section only in highly viremic mothers with pre-delivery HBV DNA levels ≥1,000,000 copies/mL may be advisable.”

Related Blog Posts: