(Encephalopathy, Hepatic; Portal-Systemic Encephalopathy; Encephalopathy, Portal-Systemic)
Pronounced: HEP-at-ik En-SEF-a-lo-PATH-ee
by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Hepatic encephalopathy is a problem with the brain that is caused by liver disease. The problem may be temporary or permanent.
A liver with disease cannot filter the harmful items in blood. These toxins build up in the blood, which reaches the brain and affects the brain’s ability to work properly.
Factors that increase your chance of hepatic encephalopathy include:
In the early stages, you may not notice any symptoms. As the condition progresses, symptoms may include:
If you have liver problems and any of the above symptoms, call your doctor right away.
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:
Your brain and nervous system may be assessed. This can be done with:
Hospitalization and Emergency Care
The initial treatment will focus on treating and trying to reverse the underlying problems. If possible, toxins in your blood will be removed or neutralized.
Medications may be used to:
Changes in your diet may be recommended. Tube feeding may be needed to supply nutrients, especially in the case of coma.
If this condition is due to liver failure, you may need a liver transplant.
To help reduce your chance of hepatic encephalopathy:
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Bernuau J. Acute liver failure: Avoidance of deleterious co-factors and early specific medical therapy for the liver are better than late intensive care for the brain. J Hepatol. 2004;41:152-155.
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Hepatic encephalopathy. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at:
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Updated August 2017. Accessed February 14, 2018.
Hepatic encephalopathy. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed... . Updated November 1, 2016. Accessed February 14, 2018.
Liere V, Sandhu G, DeMorrow S. Recent advances in hepatic encephalopathy. F1000Res. 2017;6:1637.
Lizardi-Cervera J, Almeda P, Guevara L, et al. Hepatic encephalopathy: a review. Ann Hepatol. 2003;2:122-130.
Toftengi F, Larsen F. Management of patients with fulminant hepatic failure and brain edema. Metab Brain Dis. 2004;19:207-214.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 3/5/2014
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