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Hepatic encephalopathy: current challenges and future prospects

Authors Swaminathan M, Ellul MA, Cross TJS

Received 6 April 2017

Accepted for publication 31 August 2017

Published 22 March 2018 Volume 2018:10 Pages 1—11

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/HMER.S118964

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Lucy Goodman

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Dr Gerry Lake-Bakaar


Mirashini Swaminathan,1 Mark Alexander Ellul,2 Timothy JS Cross1

1Department of Gastroenterology, Royal Liverpool University Hospital, 2Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Institute of Infection and Global Health, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK

Abstract: Hepatic encephalopathy (HE) is a common complication of liver dysfunction, including acute liver failure and liver cirrhosis. HE presents as a spectrum of neuropsychiatric symptoms ranging from subtle fluctuating cognitive impairment to coma. It is a significant contributor of morbidity in patients with liver disease. HE is observed in acute liver failure, liver bypass procedures, for example, shunt surgery and transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt, and cirrhosis. These are classified as Type A, B and C HE, respectively. HE can also be classified according to whether its presence is overt or covert. The pathogenesis is linked with ammonia and glutamine production, and treatment is based on mechanisms to reduce the formation and/or removal of these compounds. There is no specific diagnostic test for HE, and diagnosis is based on clinical suspicion, excluding other causes and use of clinical tests that may support its diagnosis. Many tests are used in trials and experimentally, but have not yet gained universal acceptance. This review focuses on the definitions, pathogenesis and treatment of HE. Consideration will be given to existing treatment, including avoidance of precipitating factors and novel therapies such as prebiotics, probiotics, antibiotics, laxatives, branched-chain amino acids, shunt embolization and the importance of considering liver transplant in appropriate cases.

Keywords: hepatic encephalopathy, pathogenesis, treatment, lactulose, rifaximin, probiotics, covert hepatic encephalopathy

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