Hepatic Encephalopathy

Hepatic encephalopathy is a problem with the brain that is caused by liver disease. The problem may be temporary or permanent.

  • Causes

    A liver with disease cannot filter the harmful lis in blood. These toxins build up in the blood, which reaches the brain and affects the brain’s ability to work properly.

  • Definition


    Hepatic encephalopathy is a problem with the brain that is caused by liver disease. The problem may be temporary or permanent.

    Liver
    oxygen brain lungs
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Diagnosis

    You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The condition of your nervous system will also be assessed.

    Your liver and kidney function may be assessed. This can be done with:

    • Liver function tests
    • Kidney function tests
    • Imaging tests of the liver

    Your brain and nervous system may be assessed. This can be done with:

    • Images of the brain with MRI scan or CT scan
    • EEG to look at brain waves for evidence of encephalopathy and/or seizures
    • Lumbar puncture to look for other causes of the encephalopathy

  • Prevention

    To help reduce your chance of getting this condition, take the following steps:

    • Get early treatment for liver problems.
    • If you have a disease such as cirrhosis, see your doctor regularly.
    • Follow your doctor's instructions regarding medication. Avoid overdosing.
    • Avoid being exposed to poisons or toxins.
    • Avoid excessive use of alcohol.
    • Do not use IV drugs.

  • Risk Factors

    Factors that increase your chances of developing hepatic encephalopathy include:

    • Cirrhosis
    • Certain conditions that affect the levels of fluids and electrolytes such as hyponatremia and hyperkalemia
    • Kidney failure
    • Infections
    • Gastrointestinal bleeding
    • Certain medications such as sedatives and anti-epileptics
    • Constipation
    • Hepatitis—infectious or autoimmune

  • Symptoms

    In the early stages, you may not notice any symptoms. As the condition progresses, symptoms may include:

    • Changes in behavior and personality
    • Shortened attention span
    • Depression or anxiety
    • Difficulty sleeping
    • Tiredness
    • Forgetfulness
    • Disorientation
    • Slurred speech
    • Uncontrolled movements, particularly a flapping tremor of the hands
    • Confusion
    • Loss of consciousness

    If you have liver problems and any of the above symptoms, call your doctor right away.

  • Treatment