• body cell mass;
  • body composition;
  • cirrhosis;
  • malnutrition;
  • total body fat

Abstract Background and Aims:  Malnutrition is common in liver cirrhosis patients. However, it is under-diagnosed because liver disease affects the traditional nutritional assessment. An understanding of changes in body composition and the establishment of the tissue-loss pattern in liver cirrhosis patients could help practitioners to better manage malnutrition in this setting. The aims of this study were: to quantify body composition changes, to determine tissue loss pattern, and to assess the relation of these to the severity of hepatic dysfunction.

Methods:  Seventy-nine patients and 17 controls were studied. Total body water and extracellular water were measured using dilution techniques. Intracellular water and body cell mass were calculated from these parameters. Total body fat was obtained using absorptiometry.

Results:  Extracellular water was increased and intracellular water was decreased in patients. The two major compartments (body cell mass and body fat) were significantly reduced, mainly in patients with moderate and severe disease. However, significant losses occurred even in Child–Pugh class A patients. We established a tissue-loss pattern. In Child–Pugh class A patients body fat loss predominated. Child–Pugh class B patients had losses in at least one of the two compartments. Most Child–Pugh class C patients had simultaneous depletion in both compartments.

Conclusions:  Liver cirrhosis was characterized by a significant reduction in body cell mass and body fat and by a redistribution of body water. Significant losses occurred even in patients with mild disease. There was a more pronounced loss of fat in the initial stages, followed by an accelerated loss of body cell mass in the advanced stages of liver cirrhosis.

© 2004 Blackwell Publishing Asia Pty Ltd