Question 1a

A 60-year-old woman has a right hemi-hepatectomy for invasive cholangio-carcinoma. She has been admitted to your unit for postoperative care

a)          Describe in detail what problems she may develop in the first 48 hours and how you would treat them?

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College Answer

The perioperative complications could be classified into (1) that of any major upper abdominal surgery and (2) specifically that of a hemi-hepatectomy for cholangiocarcinoma; or divided into various systems, ie.

(1) Respiratory:                     Inadequate  or  excessive  analgesia,  pulmonary oedema  from  fluid overload, R. haemothorax, R. pneumothorax, R diaphragmatic dysfunction, V/Q mismatch from hepatic failure, aspiration and possibly early pulmonary infection or thromboembolism. Very rarely, intraoperative air embolism ®ARDS.
(2) Cardiovascular:                Hypotension from bleeding, epidural block, perioperative myocardial ischaemia / infarction, Arrhythmias associated with electrolyte abnormalities.
(3) Gastro-intestinal failure:   Prolonged ileus, pseudo-obstruction, ascites, G I haemorrhage. (4) Renal:                                                Hepatorenal syndrome, acute tubular necrosis, oliguria.
(5) Hepatic:                             Cholangitis, hepatic failure, encephalopathy, coagulopathy, (6) CNS:                                                Encephalopathy.
(7) Metabolic:                        hyperlactataemia, iNa+, lK+, hypoglycaemia.
(8) Premorbid condition:        Possible ulcerative colitis/primary sclerosing cholangitis: Therefore, medication issues ie steroids, immune state, nutritional status etc.

Treatment is basically meticulous perioperative care with special regard to fluid and electrolyte balance, analgesia, coagulation control, and specific and supportive therapy for any individual complications that develop ie encephalopathy, hepatorenal syndrome etc.


This question closely resembles Question 1 from the second paper of 2006. In the interest of simplified revision, the answer to that question is reproduced below:

Post-operative Complications of Liver Surgery:

A Table of Problems and their Solutions

Problems Solutions
Airway issues Extubate them in ICU (no difference in duration of ICU stay, regardless of where they are extubated)
(Neelakanta et al, 1997).
Atelectasis Use NIV (reintubation rates will be improved- Narita et al, 2010)
Bleeding Use a low CVP strategy (2-5mmHg)
Intraoperatively, insist on occlusive manoeuvres (eg. Pringle manoeuvre)
Analgesia Remember the impaired clearance. Avoid benzodiazepines and long-acting opiates.
Epidural seems to increase fluid requirements: use PCA instead.
Delirium Hepatic encephalopathy may develop if the patient had abnormal liver function preoperatively. One is referred to the chapter on hepatic encephalopathy for details of its management (spoiler: a lot of lactulose is involved)
High lactate Expect it. Unlikely to be related to real shock (more a reflection of poor residual liver function)
Observe it.
Low phosphate Expect it. Replace it. The phosphate is being absorbed by the regenerating liver.
Renal failure In advanced cirrhosis, may represent hepatorenal syndrome.
In other situations, it may be pre-renal (i.e. due to inadequate fluid resuscitation) or due to intraoperative renal vascular or ureteric injury.
Fluid overload Use concentrated colloids to maintain intravascular volume (eg. 20% albumin).
Hypercatabolic state Early enteral nutrition (not much benefit from TPN - Hotta et al, 2002)
Optimal pre-operative nutrition is important.
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) should be mentioned, in spite of the fact that tey are probably pointless in this setting.
Hypoglycaemia Attentive BSL monitoring
Coagulopathy Attentive coag monitoring; likely no need for correction unless there is active bleeding
Infection Mainly in the setting of bile leaks, abdominal collections, VAP or line-related sepsis. In any case, broad-spectrum cover will be deployed, some combination of an extended-spectrum β-lactam and lactamase inhibitor, eg. Tazocin.


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