Evidence-Based Reviews

The psychiatrist’s role in liver transplantation

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Her family noted Ms. A had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder “years ago” but was unable to describe any manic episodes, and Ms. A had been treated only with an antidepressant from her primary care physician. She had persistent low mood and increased sleep since developing chronic back pain that severely limited her functioning. Ms. A attempted suicide once years ago by cutting her wrists. She had 2 prior psychiatric hospitalizations for suicidal ideation and the suicide attempt; however, she had not recently voiced suicidal ideation to her husband or family. She was adherent to psychotropic medications and follow-up appointments. Ms. A is a current smoker. She had used marijuana in the past, but her family denies current use, as well as any alcohol use or illicit substance use.

Ms. A’s diagnosis was consistent with tobacco use disorder and major depressive disorder (MDD). She likely developed withdrawal after abrupt cessation of diazepam, which she had been taking as prescribed for years. There was no evidence at the time of her initial psychiatric evaluation that the acetaminophen overdose was a suicide attempt; however, because Ms. A was intubated and sedated at that time, the consultation team recommended direct observation until she could participate in a risk assessment.

For the pre-transplant psychiatric evaluation, our consultation-liaison team noted Ms. A’s history of MDD, with recent active symptoms, chronic pain, and a past suicide attempt. She was a current tobacco smoker, which increases the risk of post-transplant vascular problems. However, she had been adherent to medications and follow-up, had very close family support, and there was no clear evidence that this acetaminophen ingestion was a suicide attempt. We noted that outpatient psychiatric follow-up and better chronic pain management would be helpful post-transplant. We would have to re-evaluate Ms. A when she was medically stable enough to communicate before making any further recommendations. Due to medical complications that developed after our evaluation, the transplant team noted Ms. A was no longer a transplant candidate.

Fortunately, Ms. A recovered with medical management over the next 2 weeks. She denied any suicidal ideation throughout her hospitalization. She was restarted on an antidepressant and received supportive therapy until discharge. Outpatient psychiatry follow-up and pain management was set up before Ms. A was discharged. Inpatient psychiatric hospitalization was not recommended. Per available records, Ms. A followed up with all outpatient appointments, including with her psychiatrist, since discharge.

Avoiding problems, maximizing outcomes

In addition to medical factors, psychosocial factors may affect the success of LT, although empirical data regarding which factors are most predictive of post-transplant outcomes is lacking, especially in patients with serious mental illness. The goals of a psychosocial pre-transplant evaluation are to promote fairness and equal access to care, maximize optimal outcomes, wisely use scarce resources, and ensure that the potential for benefits outweigh surgical risks to the patient. Identifying potential complicating factors (ie, substance abuse, nonadherence, serious psychopathology) can help guide the medical and psychiatric treatment plan and help minimize preventable problems both before and after transplant.42

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