Review article: the modern management of hepatic encephalopathy

Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2010 Mar;31(5):537-47. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2036.2009.04211.x. Epub 2009 Dec 7.


BACKGROUND; Hepatic encephalopathy, both overt and minimal, forms a continuum of cognitive change in cirrhosis. Strategies to diagnose and treat hepatic encephalopathy have evolved considerably.

Aim: To examine the updated diagnostic and treatment strategies for hepatic encephalopathy.

Methods: Techniques for the clinical, psychometric and neurophysiological evaluation of hepatic encephalopathy are reviewed. The methods reviewed include pure clinical scales (West-Haven), psychometric tests (PSE-syndrome test), neurophysiological tests (EEG, Critical flicker frequency, CFF) and computerized tests (Inhibitory control test, ICT).

Results: Clinical scales are limited, whereas psychometric tests (specifically PSE-syndrome test), CFF and ICT can be used to diagnose minimal hepatic encephalopathy. However, there is no single test that can capture the entire spectrum of cognitive impairment. Treatment options and goals depend on the acuity of hepatic encephalopathy. In-patient management should concentrate on supportive care, precipitating factor reversal and lactulose and/or rifaximin therapy. Out-patient therapy should aim to prevent recurrences, and both lactulose and rifaximin have evidence to support their use.

Conclusions: Diagnostic techniques for hepatic encephalopathy range from simple scales to sophisticated tools. Treatment options depend on the stage of hepatic encephalopathy. The future challenge is to evaluate cognitive function as a continuum with clinically relevant outcomes and to develop well-tolerated and inexpensive treatments for hepatic encephalopathy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Ambulatory Care
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Disease Progression
  • Electroencephalography
  • Event-Related Potentials, P300
  • Flicker Fusion
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Hepatic Encephalopathy / diagnosis*
  • Hepatic Encephalopathy / physiopathology
  • Hepatic Encephalopathy / psychology
  • Hepatic Encephalopathy / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Lactulose / therapeutic use*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / psychology
  • Liver Transplantation
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychometrics
  • Rifamycins / therapeutic use
  • Rifaximin
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • United States


  • Gastrointestinal Agents
  • Rifamycins
  • Lactulose
  • Rifaximin