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Summary

Background

Morphological, haemodynamic and clinical stages of cirrhosis have been proposed, although no definite staging system is yet accepted for clinical practice.

Aim

To investigate whether clinical complications of cirrhosis may define different prognostic disease stages.

Methods

Analysis of the database from a prospective inception cohort of 494 patients. Decompensation was defined by ascites, bleeding, jaundice or encephalopathy. Explored potential prognostic stages: 1, compensated cirrhosis without oesophago-gastric varices; 2, compensated cirrhosis with varices; 3, bleeding without other complications; 4, first nonbleeding decompensation; 5, any second decompensating event. Patient flow across stages was assessed by a competing risks analysis.

Results

Major patient characteristics were: 199 females, 295 males, 404 HCV+, 377 compensated, 117 decompensated cirrhosis. The mean follow-up was 145 ± 109 months without dropouts. Major events: 380 deaths, 326 oesophago-gastric varices, 283 ascites, 158 bleeding, 146 encephalopathy, 113 jaundice, 126 hepatocellular carcinoma and 19 liver transplantation. Patients entering each prognostic stage along the disease course were: 202, stage 1; 216, stage 2; 75 stage 3; 206 stage 4; 213 stage 5. Five-year transition rate towards a different stage, for stages 1–4 was 34.5%, 42%, 65% and 78%, respectively (P < 0.0001); 5-year mortality for stages 1–5 was 1.5%, 10%, 20%, 30% and 88% respectively (P < 0.0001). An exploratory analysis showed that this patient stratification may configure a prognostic system independent of the Child–Pugh score, Model for End Stage Liver Disease and comorbidity.

Conclusion

The development of oesophago-gastric varices and decompensating events in cirrhosis identify five prognostic stages with significantly increasing mortality risks.