Women hospitalized with cirrhosis are less likely to die in the hospital than are men, according to a retrospective analysis of more than half a million patients.
Although women more often had infections and comorbidities, men more often had liver decompensation, which contributed most significantly to their higher mortality rate, reported lead author, of the University of California, San Francisco, and her colleagues.
Their findings add to an existing body of knowledge about sex-related differences in chronic liver disease. Women are less likely to develop chronic liver disease; however, when women do develop disease, it often follows a unique clinical course, with milder early disease followed by more severe end-stage disease, meaning many women are too sick for a transplant, or die on the waiting list.
“The reasons behind this ‘reversal’ in [sex] disparities is unknown,” the investigators wrote in.
Considering recent findings that showed a correlation between hospitalization and mortality rates in chronic liver disease, the investigators believed that a comparison of hospital-related outcomes in men and women could explain why women apparently fare worse when dealing with end-stage disease.
The retrospective, cross-sectional study involved 553,017 patients (median age, 57 years) who were hospitalized for cirrhosis between 2009 and 2013. Data were drawn from the National Inpatient Sample (NIS). Inpatient mortality was the primary outcome.
In agreement with previous findings, the minority of patients were women (39%). Against expectations, however, women had a significantly lower mortality rate than that of men (5.7% vs. 6.4%; multivariable analysis odds ratio, 0.86). Better survival was associated with lower rates of decompensation (Baveno IV criteria; 34% vs. 38.8%) and other cirrhosis complications, such as hepatorenal syndrome, variceal bleeding, ascites, and spontaneous bacterial peritonitis. The only cirrhosis complication more common in women than men was hepatic encephalopathy (17.8% vs. 16.8%). Owing to fewer complications, fewer women required liver-related interventions, including transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (0.8% vs. 1.0%), upper endoscopy (12.8% vs. 13.0%), or paracentesis (17.6% vs. 20.6%).
While less frequent complications and a lower mortality rate might suggest that women were admitted with better overall clinical pictures, not all data supported this conclusion. For instance, women were more likely to have noncirrhosis comorbidities, including diabetes, hypertension, heart failure, stroke, and cancer. Furthermore, women had a higher rate of acute bacterial infection than that of men (34.9% vs. 28.2%), although this disparity should be considered in light of urinary tract infections (UTIs), which were significantly more common among women (18.8% vs. 8.0%).
“Interestingly, infections were a stronger predictor of inpatient mortality in women than men,” the investigators wrote. “Despite this, women in our cohort were less likely to die in the hospital than men.”
Additional analysis revealed etiological differences that may have contributed to differences in mortality rates. For instance, women less often had liver disease due to viral hepatitis (27.6% vs. 35.2%) or alcohol (24.1% vs. 38.7%). In contrast, women more often had autoimmune hepatitis (2.5% vs. 0.4%) or cirrhosis due to unspecified or miscellaneous reasons (45.7% vs. 25.7%).
“Our data suggest that differential rates of ongoing liver injury – including by cofactors such as active alcohol use – explain some but not all of the [sex] difference we observed in hepatic decompensation,” the investigators wrote, before redirecting focus to a clearer clinical finding. “The poor prognosis of decompensated cirrhosis ... provides a reasonable explanation for the higher rates of in-hospital mortality seen among men versus women,” they concluded.
Considering the surprising findings and previously known sex disparities, Dr. Rubin and her colleagues suggested that more research in this area is needed, along with efforts to deliver sex-appropriate care.
“The development of [sex]-speciﬁc cirrhosis management programs – focused on interventions to manage the interaction between cirrhosis and other common comorbidities, improving physical function both before and during hospitalization, and postacute discharge programs to facilitate resumption of independent living – would target differential needs of women and men living with cirrhosis, with the ultimate goal of improving long-term outcomes in these patients,” the investigators wrote.
The study was funded by a National Institute on Aging Paul B. Beeson Career Development Award in Aging and a National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases National Research Service Award hepatology training grant. The investigators declared no conflicts of interest.
SOURCE: Rubin et al. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2019 Feb 22. doi: 10.1097/MCG.0000000000001192.