Antibiotics for spontaneous bacterial peritonitis in cirrhotic patients

Cirrhosis is a severe end-stage liver disease marked by irreversible scarring of liver tissue. Ascites (the accumulation of fluid in the abdomen), is one of the many complications associated with cirrhosis. Ascites is associated with poor quality of life, increased risk of infection, and renal failure. The presence of ascites is a sign of poor prognosis. Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (inflammation and infection of the membrane that is lining the abdominal cavity) is a complication of cirrhotic ascites that occurs in the absence of any intra-abdominal, surgically treatable source of infection. Antibiotic therapy is indicated and should be initiated as soon as possible to avoid severe complications that may lead to death. This review aimed to evaluate the beneficial and harmful effects of different types and modes of antibiotic therapy in the treatment of spontaneous bacterial peritonitis in cirrhotic patients. Thirteen trials were included; each one of them compared different antibiotics in their experimental and control groups. No meta-analyses could be performed, though data on the main outcomes were collected and analysed separately for each included trial. Based on the identified evidence, we cannot suggest the most appropriate management to treat spontaneous bacterial peritonitis in regard to the type, dosage, duration, or administration route of the antibiotic therapy. The clinical trials found dealt with different types of antibiotics, and, therefore, could not be combined. This review found no evidence that the effect or safety of one antibiotic is more beneficial than another. Further randomised clinical trials with an adequate design, including a large number of participants and sufficient duration should be carefully planned to provide a more precise estimate of the beneficial and harmful effects of antibiotic treatment for spontaneous bacterial peritonitis.

Authors' conclusions: 

This review provides no clear evidence for the treatment of cirrhotic patients with spontaneous bacterial peritonitis. In practice, third generation cephalosporins have already been established as the standard treatment of spontaneous bacterial peritonitis, and it is clear, that empirical antibiotic therapy should be provided in any case. However, until large, well-conducted trials provide more information, practice will remain based on impression, not evidence.

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Background: 

Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis is a complication of cirrhotic ascites that occurs in the absence of any intra-abdominal, surgically treatable source of infection. Antibiotic therapy is indicated and should be initiated as soon as possible to avoid severe complications that may lead to death. It has been proposed that empirical treatment should cover gram-negative enteric bacteria and gram-positive cocci, responsible for up to 90% of spontaneous bacterial peritonitis cases.

Objectives: 

This review aims to evaluate the beneficial and harmful effects of different types and modes of antibiotic therapy in the treatment of spontaneous bacterial peritonitis in cirrhotic patients.

Search strategy: 

We performed electronic searches in The Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group Controlled Trials Register (July 2008), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) in The Cochrane Library (Issue 3, 2008), MEDLINE (1950 to July 2008), EMBASE (1980 to July 2008), and Science Citation Index EXPANDED (1945 to July 2008). In addition, we handsearched the references of all identified studies and contacted the first author of each included trial.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised studies comparing different types of antibiotics for spontaneous bacterial peritonitis in cirrhotic patients.

Data collection and analysis: 

Data were independently extracted from the trials by at least two authors. Peto odds ratios or average differences, with their 95% confidence intervals, were estimated.

Main results: 

This systematic review attempted to summarise evidence from randomised clinical trials on the treatment of spontaneous bacterial peritonitis. Thirteen studies were included; each one of them compared different antibiotics in their experimental and control groups. No meta-analyses could be performed, though data on the main outcomes were collected and analysed separately for each included trial. Currently, the evidence showing that lower dosage or short-term treatment with third generation cephalosporins is as effective as higher dosage or long-term treatment is weak. Oral quinolones could be considered an option for those with less severe manifestations of the disease.

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