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Metab Brain Dis. 2011 Jun;26(2):135-9. doi: 10.1007/s11011-011-9242-1. Epub 2011 Apr 12.

Critical flicker frequency and continuous reaction times for the diagnosis of minimal hepatic encephalopathy: a comparative study of 154 patients with liver disease.

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Department of Medicine V (Hepatology and Gastroenterology), Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus, Denmark.


Minimal hepatic encephalopathy (MHE) is intermittently present in up to 2/3 of patients with chronic liver disease. It impairs their daily living and can be treated. However, there is no consensus on diagnostic criteria except that psychometric methods are required. We compared two easy-to-perform reproducible bedside methods: the critical flicker frequency (CFF) and continuous reaction times (CRT) tests. A CFF <39 Hz and CRT-index <1.9 (index: the ratio 50/(90 minus 10) percentiles of reaction times) indicates cerebral dysfunction. 154 patients with acute or chronic liver disease with out overt hepatic encephalopathy (HE) underwent both tests at the same occasion. Both tests were abnormal in 20% of the patients and both tests were normal in 40% of the patients. In more than 1/3 the two tests were not in agreement as CFF classified 32% and CRT-index classified 48% of the patients as having MHE (p < 0.005). The two tests were weakly linearly correlated (r(2) = 0.14, p < 0.001) and neither test correlated with the metabolic liver function measured by the Galactose Elimination Capacity (GEC), nor with the blood ammonia concentration. Both tests identified a large fraction of the patients as having MHE and cleared only 40%. The two tests did not show concordant results, likely because they describe different aspects of MHE: the CFF gives a measure of astrocytic metabolic state and hence pathogenic aspects of MHE, whereas the CRT measures a composite key performance, viz. the ability of reacting appropriately to a sensory stimulus. The choice of test depends on the information needed in the clinical and scientific care and study of the patients.

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