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Trop Gastroenterol. 2008 Jan-Mar;29(1):6-12.

Minimal hepatic encephalopathy: time to recognise and treat.

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Department of Hepatology, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India.


Minimal hepatic encephalopathy represents a part of the spectrum of hepatic encephalopathy and is the mildest form. While patients with hepatic encephalopathy have impaired intellectual functioning, personality changes, altered levels of consciousness, and neuromuscular dysfunction, patients with minimal hepatic encephalopathy have no recognisable clinical symptoms of hepatic encephalopathy but have mild cognitive and psychomotor deficits. The prevalence of minimal hepatic encephalopathy has been reported to vary between 30% and 84% in patients with liver cirrhosis and is higher in patients with poor liver function. The diagnosis is usually made by neuropsychological and/or neurophysiological testing in cirrhotic patients who are otherwise normal on neurological examination. Minimal hepatic encephalopathy is a clinically significant disorder that impairs the health-related quality of life, predicts the development of overt encephalopathy and is probably associated with a poor prognosis. Thus screening all patients with cirrhosis for minimal hepatic encephalopathy using psychometric testing is recommended. Pharmacologic therapy is recommended for patients diagnosed with minimal hepatic encephalopathy. The pathogenesis of minimal hepatic encephalopathy is considered similar to that of overt hepatic encephalopathy and ammonia plays a key role. Thus ammonia lowering agents such as lactulose, L-ornithine and L-aspartate that have good safety profiles are recommended. Future studies will better define the role of probiotics, levocarnitine and sodium benzoate.

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