Hepatic encephalopathy: A review of its pathophysiology and treatment

Academic Article


  • Hepatic encephalopathy (HE) is a broad spectrum of neuropsychiatric manifestations usually affecting individuals with end-stage liver disease. The presence of HE is a poor prognostic sign, with 1-year mortality rates of almost 60%. There is much debate about the underlying mechanisms that result in this syndrome; however, elevated plasma and central nervous system ammonia levels are considered key factors in its pathogenesis. Initial evaluation of the patient presenting with overt HE should include a careful search for predisposing factors, including underlying infection, gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding, electrolyte disturbances, hepatocellular carcinoma, dehydration, hypotension, and excessive use of benzodiazepines, psychoactive drugs, or alcohol. The mainstay of treatment for many years has been nonabsorbable disaccharides, particularly lactulose. Alternative treatments, which usually are second line in patients who do not respond to lactulose, include zinc, antibiotics (neomycin, metronidazole, and rifaximin), ornithine aspartate, sodium benzoate, probiotics, and surgical intervention. Accepted treatments for HE are associated with significant unpleasant side effects, including diarrhea, renal failure, neuropathy, and other GI disturbance. Newer therapies are still in development, and most are awaiting human trials in order to confirm their benefit. These include manganese chelators, L-carnitine, N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonists, blood purification dialysis system, and an intravenous combination of sodium benzoate and phenylacetate. Copyright © 2006 by Current Science Inc.
  • Authors

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Dbouk N; McGuire BM
  • Start Page

  • 464
  • End Page

  • 474
  • Volume

  • 9
  • Issue

  • 6