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Plasma ammonia levels predict hospitalisation with liver-related complications and mortality in clinically stable outpatients with cirrhosis

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Thomas Tranah, Maria-Pilar Ballester, Juan Antonio Carbonell-Asins, Javier Ampuero, Goncalo Alexandrino, Andra Caracostea, Yolanda Sanchez-Torrijos, Karen Thomsen, Annarein Kerbert, Maria Capilla-Lozano, Manuel Romero-Gomez, Desamparados Escudero-Garcia, Carmina Montoliu, Rajiv Jalan, Debbie Shawcross

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Hepatology
Accepted/In press28 Jun 2022


King's Authors


Background and Aims: Hyperammonaemia is central in the pathogenesis of hepatic encephalopathy, but also has pleiotropic deleterious effects on several organ systems, impacting on immune function, sarcopenia, energy metabolism and portal hypertension. This study was performed to test the hypothesis that severity of hyperammonaemia is a risk factor for liver-related complications in clinically stable outpatients with cirrhosis.

Methods: We collected data from 754 clinically stable outpatients with cirrhosis from 3 independent liver units. Baseline ammonia levels were corrected to the upper limit of normal (AMM-ULN) for the reference laboratory. The primary endpoint was hospitalisation with liver-related complications (a composite endpoint of bacterial infection, variceal bleeding, overt hepatic encephalopathy, or new onset or worsening of ascites). Multivariable competing risk frailty analysis and fast unified random forest were performed to predict complications and mortality. External validation was carried out using prospective data from 130 cirrhotic patients in an independent tertiary liver centre.

Results: Overall, 260 (35%) patients were hospitalised with liver-related complications. On multivariable analysis, AMM-ULN was an independent predictor of both liver-related complications (HR=2.13; 95%CI=1.89-2.40; p<0.001) and mortality (HR=1.45; 95%CI=1.20-1.76; p<0.001). AUROC of AMM-ULN was 77.9% for 1-year complications, higher than traditional severity scores. Statistical differences in survival were found between high and low levels of AMM-ULN both for complications and mortality (p<0.001) using 1.4 as the optimal cut-off from the training set. AMM-ULN remained a key variable for the prediction of complications within the random forests model in the derivation cohort and upon external validation.

Conclusion: Ammonia is an independent predictor of hospitalisation with liver-related complications and mortality in clinically stable outpatients with cirrhosis and performs better than traditional prognostic scores in predicting complications.

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