A clinical update from the American Gastroenterological Association focuses on bleeding and thrombosis-related questions in patients with cirrhosis. It provides guidance on test strategies for bleeding risk, preprocedure management of bleeding risk, venous thromboembolism (VTE) prophylaxis, screening for portal vein thrombosis (PVT), and anticoagulation therapies. It is aimed at primary care providers, gastroenterologists, and hepatologists, among other health care providers.
In cirrhosis, there are often changes to platelet (PLT) counts and prothrombin time/international normalized ratio (PT/INR), among other parameters, and historically these changes led to concerns that patients were at greater risk of bleeding or thrombosis. More recent evidence has led to a nuanced view. Neither factor necessarily suggests increased bleeding risk, and the severity of coagulopathy predicted by them does not predict the risk of bleeding complications.
Patients with cirrhosis are at greater risk of thrombosis, but clinicians may be hesitant to prescribe anticoagulants because of uncertain risk profiles, and test strategies employing PT/INR to estimate bleeding risk and track treatment endpoints in patients receiving vitamin K antagonists may not work in cirrhosis patients with alterations in procoagulant and anticoagulant measures. Recent efforts to address this led to testing of fibrin clot formation and lysis to better gauge the variety of abnormalities in cirrhosis patients.
The guideline, published in, was informed by a technical review that focused on both bleeding-related and thrombosis-related questions. Bleeding-related questions included testing strategies and preprocedure prophylaxis to reduce bleeding risk. Thrombosis-related questions included whether VTE prophylaxis may be useful in hospitalized patients with cirrhosis, whether patients should be screened for PVT, potential therapies for nontumoral PVT, and whether or not anticoagulation is safe and effective when atrial fibrillation is present alongside cirrhosis.
Because of a lack of evidence, the guideline provides no recommendations on visco-elastic testing for bleeding risk in advance of common gastrointestinal procedures for patients with stable cirrhosis. It recommends against use of extensive preprocedural testing, such as repeated PT/INR or PLT count testing.
The guideline also looked at whether preprocedural efforts to correct coagulation parameters could reduce bleeding risk in patients with cirrhosis. It recommends against giving blood products ahead of the procedure for patients with stable cirrhosis without severe thrombocytopenia or severe coagulopathy. Such interventions can be considered for patients in the latter categories who are undergoing procedures with high bleeding risk after consideration of risks and benefits, and consultation with a hematologist.
Thrombopoietin receptor agonists (TPO-RAs) are also not recommended in patients with thrombocytopenia and stable cirrhosis undergoing common procedures, but they can be considered for patients who are more concerned about reduction of bleeding events and less concerned about the risk of PVT.
Patients who are hospitalized and meet the requirements should receive VTE prophylaxis. Although there is little available evidence about the effects of thromboprophylaxis in patients with cirrhosis, there is strong evidence of benefit in acutely ill hospitalized patients, and patients with cirrhosis are believed to be at a similar risk of VTE. There is evidence of increased bleed risk, but this is of very low certainty.
PVT should not be routinely tested for, but such testing can be offered to patients with a high level of concern over PVT and are not as worried about potential harms of treatment. This recommendation does not apply to patients waiting for a liver transplant.
Patients with non-umoral PVT should receive anticoagulation therapy, but patients who have high levels of concern about bleeding risk from anticoagulation and put a lower value on possible benefits of anticoagulation may choose not to receive it.
The guideline recommends anticoagulation for patients with atrial fibrillation and cirrhosis who are indicated for it. Patients with more concern about the bleeding risk of anticoagulation and place lower value on the reduction in stroke risk may choose to not receive anticoagulation. This is particularly true for those with more advanced cirrhosis (Child-Turcotte-Pugh Class C) and/or low CHA2DS2-VASC scores.
Nearly all of the recommendations in the guideline are conditional, reflecting a lack of data and a range of knowledge gaps that need filling. The authors call for additional research to identify specific patients who are at high risk for bleeding or thrombosis “to appropriately provide prophylaxis using blood product transfusion or TPO-RAs in patients at risk for clinically significant bleeding, to screen for and treat PVT, and to prevent clinically significant thromboembolic events.”
The development of the guideline was funded fully by the AGA. Members of the panel submitted conflict of interest information, and these statements are maintained at AGA headquarters.