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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Aug 10;8:CD002798. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002798.pub4.

Flumazenil versus placebo or no intervention for people with cirrhosis and hepatic encephalopathy.

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UCL Institute for Liver & Digestive Health, Division of Medicine, Royal Free Campus, University College London, Rowland Hill Street, Hampstead, London, UK, NW3 2PF.



Hepatic encephalopathy is a common complication of cirrhosis which results in poor brain functioning. The spectrum of changes associated with hepatic encephalopathy ranges from the clinically 'indiscernible' or minimal hepatic encephalopathy to the clinically 'obvious' or overt hepatic encephalopathy. Flumazenil is a synthetic benzodiazepine antagonist with high affinity for the central benzodiazepine recognition site. Flumazenil may benefit people with hepatic encephalopathy through an indirect negative allosteric modulatory effect on gamma-aminobutyric acid receptor function. The previous version of this review, which included 13 randomised clinical trials, found no effect of flumazenil on all-cause mortality, based on an analysis of 10 randomised clinical trials, but found a beneficial effect on hepatic encephalopathy, based on an analysis of eight randomised clinical trials.


To evaluate the beneficial and harmful effects of flumazenil versus placebo or no intervention for people with cirrhosis and hepatic encephalopathy.


We searched The Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group Controlled Trials Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, Science Citation Index Expanded, and LILACS; meeting and conference proceedings; and bibliographies in May 2017.


We included randomised clinical trials regardless of publication status, blinding, or language in the analyses of benefits and harms, and observational studies in the assessment of harms.


Two review authors extracted data independently. We undertook meta-analyses and presented results using risk ratios (RR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI) and I2 values as a marker of heterogeneity. We assessed bias control using the Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group domains; determined the quality of the evidence using GRADE; evaluated the risk of small-study effects in regression analyses; and conducted trial sequential, subgroup, and sensitivity analyses.


We identified 14 eligible randomised clinical trials with 867 participants, the majority of whom had an acute episode of overt hepatic encephalopathy. In addition, we identified one ongoing randomised clinical trial. We were unable to gather outcome data from two randomised clinical trials with 25 participants. Thus, our analyses include 842 participants from 12 randomised clinical trials comparing flumazenil versus placebo. We classified one randomised clinical trial at low risk of bias in the overall assessment and the remaining randomised clinical trials at high risk of bias. The duration of follow-up ranged from a few minutes to two weeks, but it was less than one day in the majority of the trials.In total, 32/433 (7.4%) participants allocated to flumazenil versus 38/409 (9.3%) participants allocated to placebo died (RR 0.75, 95% CI 0.48 to 1.16; 11 randomised clinical trials; low quality evidence). The Trial Sequential Analysis and the one randomised clinical trial assessed as low risk of bias (RR 0.76, 95% CI 0.37 to 1.53) found no beneficial or harmful effects of flumazenil on all-cause mortality. The methods used to evaluate hepatic encephalopathy included several different clinical scales, electrophysiological variables, and psychometric tests. Flumazenil was associated with a beneficial effect on hepatic encephalopathy when including all randomised clinical trials (RR 0.75, 95% CI 0.71 to 0.80; 824 participants; nine randomised clinical trials; low quality evidence), or just the trial at low risk of bias (RR 0.78, 95% CI 0.72 to 0.84; 527 participants). The Trial Sequential Analysis supported a beneficial effect of flumazenil on hepatic encephalopathy. The randomised clinical trials included little information about causes of death and little information on non-fatal serious adverse events.


We found low quality evidence suggesting a short-term beneficial effect of flumazenil on hepatic encephalopathy in people with cirrhosis, but no evidence of an effect on all-cause mortality. Additional evidence from large, high quality randomised clinical trials is needed to evaluate the potential benefits and harms of flumazenil in people with cirrhosis and hepatic encephalopathy.

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