BACKGROUND & AIMS: The prognosis of compensated cirrhosis is good until decompensation. In decompensated cirrhosis, bacterial infections (BIs) are common and increase the risk of death. The incidence and prognostic implications of BIs in compensated cirrhosis are less-well characterized. This study aimed to assess whether BIs influence the risk of decompensation and survival in patients with compensated cirrhosis.

METHODS: This is a cohort study nested to the PREDESCI study, a double-blind, multicenter, randomized controlled trial designed to assess whether β-blockers could prevent decompensation of cirrhosis. Patients with compensated cirrhosis and hepatic venous pressure gradient ≥10 mmHg were included. Development of BIs during follow-up was prospectively registered. Using a competing-risk time-dependent regression analysis, we investigated whether BIs affect the risk of decompensation and survival. Decompensation was defined as development of ascites, bleeding or overt encephalopathy.

RESULTS: A total of 201 patients were randomized and followed for a median of 36 months (IQR 24-47 months); 34 patients (17%) developed BIs, which occurred before decompensation in 33 cases, and 29 (14%) developed ascites. Respiratory and urinary tract infections were the most frequent BIs. Decompensation occurred in 26% patients with BIs vs. 16% without BIs. Patients with BIs were at higher risk of decompensation (subdistribution hazard ratio [SHR] 2.93; 95% CI 1.02-8.42; p = 0.047) and of developing ascites (SHR 3.55; 95% CI 1.21-10.47; p = 0.022) than those without BIs. Risk of death was also higher in patients with BIs (subdistribution HR 6.93; 95% CI 2.64-18.18; p <0.001), although decompensation occurred before death in 71% of such cases.

CONCLUSIONS: BIs have a marked impact on the natural history of compensated cirrhosis, significantly increasing the risk of decompensation, mainly that of ascites, and increasing the risk of death, which usually occurs after decompensation. Our results suggest that BIs may constitute a target to prevent decompensation.

LAY SUMMARY: It is widely known that bacterial infections are common and increase the mortality risk in patients with decompensated cirrhosis. However, the relevance of bacterial infections in compensated cirrhosis has not been well studied. This study shows that in patients with compensated cirrhosis and clinically significant portal hypertension, bacterial infections occur as frequently as the development of ascites, which is the most frequent decompensating event. Bacterial infections increase the risk of progression to decompensation, mainly by increasing the risk of ascites, and also increase the risk of death, which usually occurs after decompensation. CLINICALTRIALS.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)589-599
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of hepatology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021


  • Bacterial infections
  • Clinically significant portal hypertension
  • Compensated cirrhosis
  • HVPG-monitoring
  • Hyperdynamic circulation
  • Pre-Primary Prophylaxis
  • β-blockers


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