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Keywords:

  • acetaminophen;
  • acute liver failure;
  • liver transplantation;
  • suicide

Abstract

Background: Acetaminophen-induced hepatotoxicity is the most common cause of acute liver failure (ALF) in the UK. Patients often consume the drug with suicidal intent or with a background of substance dependence.

Aims and methods: We compared the severity of pretransplant illness, psychiatric co-morbidity, medical and psychosocial outcomes of all patients who had undergone liver transplantation (LT) emergently between 1999–2004 for acetaminophen-induced ALF (n=36) with age- and sex-matched patients undergoing emergent LT for non-acetaminophen-induced ALF (n=35) and elective LT for chronic liver disease (CLD, n=34).

Results: Acetaminophen-induced ALF patients undergoing LT had a greater severity of pre-LT illness reflected by higher Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II scores and requirement for organ support compared with the other two groups. Twenty (56%) acetaminophen-induced ALF patients had a formal psychiatric diagnosis before LT (non-acetaminophen-induced ALF=0/35, CLD=2/34; P<0.01 for all) and nine (25%) had a previous suicide attempt. During follow-up (median 5 years), there were no significant differences in rejection (acute and chronic), graft failure or survival between the groups (acetaminophen-induced ALF 1 year 87%, 5 years 75%; non-acetaminophen-induced ALF 88%, 78%; CLD 93%, 82%: P>0.6 log rank). Two acetaminophen-induced ALF patients reattempted suicide post-LT (one died 8 years post-LT).

Conclusions: Despite a high prevalence of psychiatric disturbance, outcomes for patients transplanted emergently for acetaminophen-induced ALF were comparable to those transplanted for non-acetaminophen-induced ALF and electively for CLD. Multidisciplinary approaches with long-term psychiatric follow-up may contribute to low post-transplant suicide rates seen and low rates of graft loss because of non-compliance.