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Investigating potential confounding by indication when considering the association between proton pump inhibitor use, infection, hepatic encephalopathy and mortality in hospitalised decompensated cirrhosis: a post-hoc analysis of the ATTIRE trial
1Institute of Liver and Digestive Health, University College London, United Kingdom.
2Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Glasgow, United Kingdom.
3Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom.
4National Institute for Health Research Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and the University of Nottingham, Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham, United Kingdom.
5Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, Basildon & Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Hepatobiliary Medicine, The Royal Free Hospital, University College London, Kings College London, United Kingdom.
6Comprehensive Clinical Trials Unit, University College London, United Kingdom.
Background: Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are commonly prescribed to prevent and treat upper gastrointestinal ulceration and bleeding. Studies have identified increased incidence of spontaneous bacterial peritonitis and hepatic encephalopathy (HE) in cirrhosis patients taking PPIs. However, results are conflicting, and as PPIs are prescribed for variceal bleeding, a major risk factor for infection and HE, it is challenging to discern whether these associations are causal.
Methods: In this post-hoc analysis of the ATTIRE trial, we pooled all patient data to investigate the effects of PPI use on clinical outcomes. ATTIRE was a multicentre, open-label, randomised trial of targeted 20% human albumin solution (HAS) daily infusions versus standard care involving 777 adults with decompensated cirrhosis hospitalised with acute complications and albumin <30 g/L. Study recruitment was between Jan 25, 2016, and June 28, 2019, at 35 hospitals across England, Scotland, and Wales. Key exclusion criteria were advanced hepatocellular carcinoma with life expectancy <8 weeks and patients receiving palliative care. In ATTIRE, patients were grouped by PPI use at trial entry. We studied infection and HE at baseline and incidence of hospital acquired infection, new onset HE, renal dysfunction and mortality. We attempted with propensity score matching to account for differences in disease severity.
Findings: Overall PPI use at baseline was not associated with increased incidence of infection, renal dysfunction or mortality, but was associated with significantly increased incidence of grade III/IV HE during hospital stay (P = 0.011). This was only significant for those taking intravenous PPIs and these patients had >10 times the incidence of variceal bleeding and near double the 28-day mortality compared to non-PPI patients. However, propensity score matching was not possible as there was such a strong selection of patients for PPI use, that we could not find sufficient non-PPI patients to match to. We found no impact of PPI use on plasma markers of bacterial translocation, infection or systemic inflammation.
Interpretations: Our real-world data from a completed randomised trial show that PPIs are widely prescribed in the UK and judicious use appears safe in patients hospitalised with decompensated cirrhosis. However, patients prescribed PPIs had fundamentally different phenotypes to those not prescribed PPIs, a form of confounding by indication, which should be strongly considered when interpreting studies and making recommendations about their use.
Funding: Wellcome Trust and Department of Health and Social Care.