Hepatobiliary long-term consequences of COVID-19: dramatically increased rate of secondary sclerosing cholangitis in critically ill COVID-19 patients


  • S. Leonhardt
  • C. Jürgensen
  • J. Frohme
  • D. Grajecki
  • A. Adler
  • M. Sigal
  • J. Leonhardt
  • J.M. Voll
  • J.M. Kruse
  • R. Körner
  • K.U. Eckardt
  • H.J. Janssen
  • V. Gebhardt
  • M.D. Schmittner
  • C. Frey
  • H. Müller-Ide
  • M. Bauer
  • C. Thibeault
  • F. Kurth
  • L.E. Sander
  • T. Müller
  • F. Tacke


  • Hepatology International


  • Hepatol Int


  • BACKGROUND: Increasing evidence suggests that secondary sclerosing cholangitis (SSC), which can lead to cirrhosis or liver failure, may be a hepatobiliary long-term complication of COVID-19. The aim of this study was to estimate the frequency and outcome of this COVID-19 sequela and to identify possible risk factors. METHODS: This observational study, conducted at University Hospital Charité Berlin and Unfallkrankenhaus Berlin, Germany, involved hospitalized patients with COVID-19 pneumonia, including 1082 ventilated COVID-19 patients. We compared COVID-19 patients who developed SSC with a COVID-19 control group by univariate and multivariate analyses. RESULTS: SSC occurrence after COVID-19 was observed exclusively in critically ill patients with invasive ventilation, albeit with extreme clustering among them. One in every 43 invasively ventilated COVID-19 patients developed this complication. Risk factors preceding the development of secondary sclerosing cholangitis in critically ill COVID-19 patients (SSC-CIP) were signs of systemic reduced blood oxygen supply (e.g., low PaO(2)/FiO(2), ischemic organ infarctions), multi-organ failure (high SOFA score) at admission, high fibrinogen levels and intravenous ketamine use. Multivariate analysis confirmed fibrinogen and increased plasma lactate dehydrogenase as independent risk factors associated with cholangiopathy onset. The 1-year transplant-free survival rate of COVID-19-associated SSC-CIP was 40%. CONCLUSIONS: COVID-19 causes SSC-CIP in a substantial proportion of critically ill patients. SSC-CIP most likely develops due to severe tissue hypoxia and fibrinogen-associated circulatory disturbances. A significant increase of patients with SSC-CIP is to be expected in the post-COVID era.