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Current trends in the treatment of hepatic encephalopathy

Authors Mohamad Rasm Al Sibae, Brendan M McGuire

Published 31 July 2009 Volume 2009:5 Pages 617—626

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/TCRM.S4443

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 3

Mohamad Rasm Al Sibae, Brendan M McGuire

Department of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA

Abstract: Hepatic encephalopathy (HE) is a common reversible neuropsychiatric syndrome associated with chronic and acute liver dysfunction and significant morbidity and mortality. Although a clear pathogenesis is yet to be determined, elevated ammonia in the serum and central nervous system are the mainstay for pathogenesis and treatment. Management includes early diagnosis and prompt treatment of precipitating factors (infection, gastrointestinal bleeding, electrolyte disturbances, hepatocellular carcinoma, dehydration, hypotension, and use of benzodiazepines, psychoactive drugs, and/or alcohol). Clinical trials have established the efficacy of lactulose and lactitol enemas in the treatment of acute hepatic encephalopathy. Extensive clinical experience has demonstrated the efficacy of oral lactulose and lactitol with the goal of two to three soft bowel movements a day for the treatment of chronic HE. However, lactulose and lactitol have significant gastrointestinal side effects. For patients unable to tolerate lactulose or lactitol or who still have persistent chronic HE with lactulose or lactitol, neomycin, metronidazole and rifaximin are second-line agents. More recent data supports the benefits of rifaximin used solely and as an additional agent with fewer side effects than neomycin or metronidazole. Newer therapies being investigated in humans with clinical promise include nitazoxanide, the molecular adsorbent recirculating system (MARS), L-ornithine phenylacetate, sodium benzoate, and/or sodium phenylacetate and Kremezin® (AST-120).

Keywords: hepatic encephalopathy, liver dysfunction, lactulose, lactitol

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