Severe hypoxemia associated with chronic liver disease is an uncommon disorder most likely due to an intrapulmonary vascular abnormality that has characteristics of both ventilation-perfusion mismatching and diffusion limitation. Anatomically, the intrapulmonary vascular abnormalities can occasionally be detected by angiography. Physiologically, the gas exchange abnormalities can be substantiated by contrast-enhanced two-dimensional echocardiography. Although orthodeoxia and platypnea have frequently been found in these patients, echocardiographic data suggest that vascular abnormalities can exist in the absence of orthodeoxia. We describe 11 patients who had severe hypoxemia and chronic liver disease and review their pulmonary angiographic, contrast echocardiographic, and arterial blood gas findings. Among five of these patients who were given almitrine bismesylate, an experimental medication thought to alter ventilation-perfusion relationships in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, one had improved oxygenation. We recommend that patients with hypoxemia associated with chronic liver disease have detailed studies to rule out reversible forms of hypoxemia and that those with severe hypoxemia undergo testing to determine the existence of intrapulmonary vascular abnormalities, especially if liver transplantation is considered.
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