Background: There are numerous studies concerning the natural history and prognostic factors in cirrhosis, the results of which are useful in selecting liver transplant candidates. However, little attention has been paid to the prognostic significance of hepatic encephalopathy despite the high frequency of this complication.
Methods: We reviewed the charts of 111 cirrhotic patients who developed a first episode of acute hepatic encephalopathy to determine their survival probability and to identify prognostic factors.
Results: During follow-up (12+/-17 months), 82 (74%) patients died. The survival probability was 42% at 1 year of follow-up and 23% at 3 years. With univariate analyses followed by a multivariate analysis, 7 out of 30 clinical and standard laboratory variables were significantly associated with poor prognosis: male sex, increased serum bilirubin, alkaline phosphatase, potassium and blood urea nitrogen, and decreased serum albumin and prothrombin activity. Patients were classified into two groups according to a prognostic index calculated from these 7 variables. Survival probability at 1 and 3 years was 73% and 38%, respectively, in patients with a low prognostic index, and 10% and 3% in patients with a high prognostic index.
Conclusion: Hepatic encephalopathy is associated with short survival in cirrhotic patients. Although these patients can be classified into several groups with a different prognosis, the survival probability in every group is lower than that currently expected after liver transplantation. Therefore, cirrhotic patients developing a first episode of acute hepatic encephalopathy should be considered as potential candidates for this therapeutic procedure.