There is a rich science around the management of the cirrhotic liver itself – for example, pragmatic prognostic markers such as MELDNa, data-driven strategies to prevent variceal bleeding, and well-utilized algorithms to manage ascites.
But what is new in cirrhosis management is an emerging science around the management of the person living with cirrhosis – a science that seeks to understand how these individuals function in their day-to-day lives, how they feel, and how they can best prepare for their future. What is so exciting is that the field is moving beyond simply understanding those complex aspects of the patient, which is important in and of itself, toward developing practical tools to help clinicians assess their patients’ symptoms and strategies to help improve their patients’ lived experience. Although terms such as “frailty,” “palliative care,” and “advance care planning” are not new in cirrhosis per se, they are now recognized as distinct patient-centered constructs that are highly relevant to the management of patients with cirrhosis. Furthermore, these constructs have been codified through two recent guidance statements sponsored by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.1,2 Pragmatic tools are emerging to facilitate the integration of these patient-centered constructs into routine clinical practice, tools such as the Liver Frailty Index, the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System adapted for patients with cirrhosis, and structured frameworks for guiding goals-of-care discussions. The incorporation of these tools allows for new management strategies directed toward improving the patient’s experience such as timely initiation of nutrition and activity-based interventions, algorithms for pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic strategies for symptom management, and online/video-guided approaches to articulating one’s goals of care.
So, what is new in cirrhosis management is that we are moving beyond managing the cirrhotic liver itself to considering how cirrhosis and its complications impact the patient as a whole. In doing so, we are turning the art of hepatology care into science that can be applied systematically at the bedside for every patient, with the goal of improving care for all patients living with cirrhosis.
Dr. Lai holds the Endowed Professorship of Liver Health and Transplantation at the University of California, San Francisco. She reports having no conflicts of interest. These remarks were made during one of the AGA Postgraduate Course sessions held at DDW 2022.
1. Lai JC et al..
2. Rogal S et al. Hepatology. 2022 Feb 1..