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Drug insight: the role of albumin in the management of chronic liver disease.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Toronto General Hospital, 9th floor, North Wing, Room 983, 200 Elizabeth Street, Toronto, ON M5G 2C4, Canada.


Albumin is the most abundant protein in the circulation. Its main physiologic function is to maintain colloid osmotic pressure. Better understanding of albumin's other physiologic functions has expanded its application beyond maintenance of intravascular volume. In patients with cirrhosis, albumin has been used as an adjunct to diuretics to improve the diuretic response. It has also been used to prevent circulatory dysfunction developing after large-volume paracentesis. Newer indications in cirrhotic patients include preventing hepatorenal syndrome in those with spontaneous bacterial peritonitis, and treating established hepatorenal syndrome in conjunction with vasoconstrictor therapies. The use of albumin for many of these indications is controversial, mostly because of the paucity of well-designed, randomized, controlled trials. The cost of albumin infusions, lack of clear-cut benefits for survival, and fear of transmitting unknown viruses add to the controversy. The latest indication for albumin use in cirrhotic patients is extracorporeal albumin dialysis, which has shown promise for the treatment of hepatic encephalopathy; its role in hepatorenal syndrome or acute on chronic liver failure has not been established. Efforts should be made to define the indications for albumin use, dose of albumin required and predictors of response, so that patients gain the maximum benefit from its administration.

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