Liver transplantation is now performed for the treatment of fulminant hepatic failure, but the selection of patients for this procedure has been incompletely described. We used worsening hepatic encephalopathy, clinical evidence of brain edema, and prolongation of the prothrombin time after 24-48 h of intensive medical treatment as key factors influencing the decision to recommend liver transplantation. Thirty-seven patients (29 adult, 8 pediatric) were admitted with fulminant hepatic failure. Ten improved with medical treatment, so liver transplantation was not recommended. Twentyseven deteriorated despite medical treatment. Eight of these, 7 with grade 4 hepatic encephalopathy and persistent coagulopathy, did not receive transplantation because of contraindications (n = 5), failure to find a donor (n = 1), or refusal of therapy (n = 2). None of these survived. Sixteen of the other 19 patients developed grade 4 hepatic encephalopathy, 5 had brain edema, and all had persistent coagulopathy, so liver transplantation was performed. One year actuarial survival was 58%. This retrospective analysis confirms that survival exceeding 50% can be obtained with liver transplantation in patients with fulminant hepatic failure. Additional studies of prognostic markers are needed to define the role of liver transplantation in the management of this disease.
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