The treatment is described of 17 patients with presumed viral hepatitis who developed hepatic coma unresponsive to standard conservative measures. Five patients were considered for treatment by exchange transfusion. Four were treated, with transient improvement in two, but all died. Nine patients were considered for treatment by heterologous liver perfusion. Six were treated, with transient improvement in two and complete recovery in one. The last patient remains well 12 months later. Dialysis in four patients had no effect on the coma; the addition of albumin to the dialysate did not increase the extraction of bilirubin.
The clinical course in most cases was irregular. Complications were common, the most important being cerebral oedema with medullary coning, bleeding, bacterial infection, hypoglycaemia, and pancreatitis.
Heterologous liver perfusion was the most efficient method of removing bilirubin. However, it is not yet clear whether it is more effective than exchange transfusion in the treatment of the patient.
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