Cirrhotic cardiomyopathy: Getting to the heart of the matter



In cirrhosis, cardiac contractile function has been extensively documented to be abnormal. At baseline, cardiac output is increased, and this is one of the characteristics of hyperdynamic circulation. However, when cirrhotic patients are challenged by pharmacological or physiological stress, ventricular hyporesponsiveness is revealed. Similar patterns have been noted in cirrhotic animal models. This phenomenon has been termed “cirrhotic cardiomyopathy.” Although alcohol abuse may contribute to some cases of cirrhotic cardiomyopathy, it has been clearly documented to occur even in the absence of alcohol ingestion. Diminished myocardial β-adrenergic receptor signal transduction function, possibly caused by a persistent elevation in norepinephrine content, has been shown to play an important role. Alternation in cardiac plasma membrane properties due to impaired lipid metabolism is also crucial. Other possible pathogenic factors are reviewed, including accumulation of cardiodepressant substances caused by hepatocellular insufficiency, and ventricular overload secondary to increased blood volume and hyperdynamic circulation. Because the cardiac reserve function is borderline in patients with cirrhosis, cardiovascular status should be carefully monitored, especially when patients undergo stresses such as liver transplantation or portosystemic shunting procedures.