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Am J Gastroenterol. 2001 Jul;96(7):1968-76.

Hepatic Encephalopathy.

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Department of Medicine, Lakeside VA Medical Center and Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois 60611, USA.


1. Acute Encephalopathy in Cirrhosis A. GENERAL MEASURES. Tracheal intubation in patients with deep encephalopathy should be considered. A nasogastric tube is placed for patients in deep encephalopathy. Avoid sedatives whenever possible. Correction of the precipitating factor is the most important measure. B. SPECIFIC MEASURES i. Nutrition. In case of deep encephalopathy, oral intake is withheld for 24-48 h and i.v. glucose is provided until improvement. Enteral nutrition can be started if the patient appears unable to eat after this period. Protein intake begins at a dose of 0.5 g/kg/day, with progressive increase to 1-1.5 g/kg/day. ii. Lactulose is administered via enema or nasogastric tube in deep encephalopathy. The oral route is optimized by dosing every hour until stool evacuation appears. Lactulose can be replaced by oral neomycin. iii. Flumazenil may be used in selected cases of suspected benzodiazepine use. 2. Chronic Encephalopathy in Cirrhosis i. Avoidance and prevention of precipitating factors, including the institution of prophylactic measures. ii. Nutrition. Improve protein intake by feeding dairy products and vegetable-based diets. Oral branched-chain amino acids can be considered for individuals intolerant of all protein. iii. Lactulose. Dosing aims at two to three soft bowel movements per day. Antibiotics are reserved for patients who respond poorly to disaccharides or who do not exhibit diarrhea or acidification of the stool. Chronic antibiotic use (neomycin, metronidazole) requires careful renal, neurological, and/or otological monitoring. iv. Refer for liver transplantation in appropriate candidates. For problematic encephalopathy (nonresponsive to therapy), consider imaging of splanchnic vessels to identify large spontaneous portal-systemic shunts potentially amenable to radiological occlusion. In addition, consider the combination of lactulose and neomycin, addition of oral zinc, and invasive approaches, such as occlusion of TIPS or surgical shunts, if present. Minimal or Subclinical Encephalopathy Treatment can be instituted in selected cases. The most characteristic neuropsychological deficits in patients with cirrhosis are in motor and attentional skills (60). Although these may impact the ability to perform daily activities, many subjects can compensate for these defects. Recent studies suggest a small but significant impact of these abnormalities on patients' quality of life (61), including difficulties with sleep (62). In patients with significant deficits or complaints, a therapeutic program based on dietary manipulations and/or nonabsorbable disaccharides may be tried. Benzodiazepines should not be used for patients with sleep difficulties.

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