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Abstract

The clinical course of alcoholic cirrhosis, a condition with a high mortality, has not been well described. We examined prevalence, risk, chronology, and mortality associated with three complications of cirrhosis: ascites, variceal bleeding, and hepatic encephalopathy. We followed a population-based cohort of 466 Danish patients diagnosed with alcoholic cirrhosis in 1993–2005, starting from the date of hospital diagnosis and ending in August 2006. Data were extracted from medical charts during the follow-up period. Risk and mortality associated with complications were calculated using competing-risks methods. At diagnosis of alcoholic cirrhosis, 24% of patients had no complications, 55% had ascites alone, 6% had variceal bleeding alone, 4% had ascites and variceal bleeding, and 11% had hepatic encephalopathy. One-year mortality was 17% among patients with no initial complications, 20% following variceal bleeding alone, 29% following ascites alone, 49% following ascites and variceal bleeding (from the onset of the later of the two complications), and 64% following hepatic encephalopathy. Five-year mortality ranged from 58% to 85%. The risk of complications was about 25% after 1 year and 50% after 5 years for all patients without hepatic encephalopathy. The complications under study did not develop in any predictable sequence. Although patients initially without complications usually developed ascites first (12% within 1 year), many developed either variceal bleeding first (6% within 1 year) or hepatic encephalopathy first (4% within 1 year). Subsequent complications occurred in an unpredictable order among patients with ascites or variceal bleeding. Conclusion: Patients with alcoholic cirrhosis had a high prevalence of complications at the time of cirrhosis diagnosis. The presence and type of complications at diagnosis were predictors of mortality, but not of the risk of subsequent complications. (HEPATOLOGY 2010.)