Prevalence and natural history of subclinical hepatic encephalopathy in cirrhosis

J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2001 May;16(5):531-5. doi: 10.1046/j.1440-1746.2001.02487.x.


Background and aims: The natural history of subclinical hepatic encephalopathy (SHE) is unknown. The present study was conducted to study the prevalence and the natural history of SHE in patients with cirrhosis of the liver.

Methods: One hundred and sixty-five patients with cirrhosis of the liver were studied. A total of nine psychometric tests (trail making and Wechsler adult intelligence scale-performance (WAIS-P) tests) were administered. Subclinical hepatic encephalopathy was present if two or more psychometric tests were abnormal. Seventy-two patients (SHE 40, without SHE 32) also underwent serial psychometric testing on follow-up visits at 6-8 week intervals.

Results: Subclinical hepatic encephalopathy was present in 103 (62.4%) patients. The number and figure connection, block design and picture completion tests were the most useful in the detection of SHE. Severity of SHE, as assessed by the number of abnormal tests, was greater in patients with more severe liver disease. During follow up, SHE tended to persist or worsen in patients with poorer liver function. Although other clinical complications were similar in different groups, overt hepatic encephalopathy developed more commonly in those patients who had SHE at entry compared to those who did not (22.6 vs 5.6%, P = 0.044). Among the patients with SHE, the development of overt hepatic encephalopathy was more common in patients with Child's score of > 6 than with Child's score of <or= 6 (40 vs 5%, P = 0.019).

Conclusions: We conclude that SHE is common in cirrhosis. The natural history of SHE is worse in patients with advanced cirrhosis and SHE probably predisposes the cirrhotic patient to overt hepatic encephalopathy.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ascites / etiology
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage / etiology
  • Hepatic Encephalopathy / diagnosis
  • Hepatic Encephalopathy / etiology*
  • Hepatic Encephalopathy / psychology
  • Humans
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications*
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Peritonitis / etiology
  • Psychometrics