Evidence-Based Reviews

The psychiatrist’s role in liver transplantation

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Liver cirrhosis due to chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is one of the leading causes for LT. In the United States, HCV is commonly transmitted during injection drug use. According to the 2013 AASLD guideline, ongoing illicit substance use is a relative contraindication to LT.2 It is important to note, however, that methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) is not a contraindication to LT. In fact, the 2013 AASLD guideline recommends that patients receiving MMT should not be required to reduce or stop therapy in order to be listed for transplant.2 Studies have shown that in 80% of patients, tapering MMT leads to illicit opiate relapse.20 Currently, there is no evidence that patients receiving MMT have poorer post-transplant outcomes compared with patients not receiving MMT.21

Whether cannabis use is a relative contraindication to LT remains controversial.22 Possible adverse effects of cannabis use in transplant patients include drug–drug interactions and infections. Hézode et al23 reported that daily cannabis use is significantly associated with an increased fibrosis progression rate in patients with chronic HCV infection. Another recent study found that a history of cannabis use was not associated with worse outcomes among patients on the LT waitlist.24 With the increased legalization of cannabis, more studies are needed to assess ongoing cannabis use in patients on the LT waitlist and post-LT outcomes.

Psychiatric history. When assessing a patient for possible LT, no psychiatric disorder is considered an absolute contraindication. Patients with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, and those with intellectual disability can have successful, long-term outcomes with proper evaluation and preparation, including social support. However, empirical literature regarding transplant outcomes and predictive factors in patients with serious mental illness is scarce.2

Studies examining the predictive value of pre-transplant depression on post-transplant outcomes have had mixed results.25 Depression may predict lower post-transplant quality of life. Pre-LT suicidal thoughts (as noted on the Beck Depression Inventory, for example) are associated with post-LT depression.25 In contrast, available data show no significant effect of pre-transplant anxiety on post-LT outcomes. Similarly, pre-transplant cognitive performance appears not to predict survival or other post-transplant outcomes, but may predict poorer quality of life after transplant.25

A few psychiatric factors are considered relative contraindications for LT. These include severe personality disorders, active substance use with no motivation for treatment or abstinence, active psychosis, severe neurocognitive disorders, suicidality, and factitious disorder.7

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