Objectives: In patients with compensated liver cirrhosis the clinical repercussions of detecting subclinical hepatic encephalopathy (SHE) are unclear. We present a long-term follow-up study in cirrhotic patients to examine the relationship between SHE and subsequent episodes of overt hepatic encephalopathy.
Methods: A total of 63 cirrhotic patients were studied by Number Connection Test and auditory evoked potentials. We determined glutamine, ammonia, zinc, glutamate, urea, and ratio of branched chain amino acids to aromatic amino acids, and Child-Pugh classification.
Results: Of 63 patients, 34 (53%) exhibited SHE. Nineteen out of 63 (30%) developed overt hepatic encephalopathy during follow-up. Hepatic encephalopathy in follow-up was related to alcoholic etiology, ammonia, glutamine, zinc, ratio of branched chain amino acids to aromatic amino acids, liver function, presence of esophageal varices, and detection of SHE (84% of patients who exhibited hepatic encephalopathy in follow-up showed SHE). In Cox-regression, glutamine levels, SHE, esophageal varices, and Child-Pugh class were the independent variables related to hepatic encephalopathy in follow-up.
Conclusions: SHE (defined on the basis of number connection test or auditory evoked potentials alteration) could predict a subsequent episode of overt hepatic encephalopathy. Lower glutamine levels, presence of esophageal varices, and liver dysfunction were also related to the development of overt hepatic encephalopathy.