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Chem Senses. 2006 Mar;31(3):273-8. Epub 2006 Jan 25.

Olfactory deficits in patients affected by minimal hepatic encephalopathy: a pilot study.

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Department of General Psychology, University of Padua, Padova, Italy.


Minimal hepatic encephalopathy (MHE) is the earliest stage of hepatic encephalopathy and is associated with changes in cognitive functions, in electrophysiological parameters, and in cerebral neurochemical/neurotransmitter homeostasis. MHE can be observed in patients with cirrhosis who have no clinical evidence of hepatic encephalopathy (HE). At present, no data are available on a possible olfactory dysfunction in such a syndrome, although the pathophysiology of HE may alter olfactory functions since some of the neurotransmitters impaired in the syndrome are involved in the transmission of olfactory information. In the present paper, we performed a preliminary study aimed at detecting whether identification and recognition odor memory is altered in patients with MHE. Twelve patients diagnosed as MHE on the basis of their scores at the portosystemic encephalopathy (PSE)-syndrome test battery, and 12 age-matched controls were studied. Consistent with the hypothesis, patients performed significantly worse than controls for both odor identification and recognition tasks. In addition, a significant correlation between the two olfactory tests and the PSE-syndrome test score was found. This pattern supports the notion that olfactory alterations related to cognitive dysfunction in patients with MHE may be linked to the pathophysiology of HE.

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