Source Dr. Frederick is Director of Quality and Clinical Protocols for the Hepatology and Liver Transplant Program at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, California.
Hepatic encephalopathy (HE) represents a broad continuum of neuropsychological dysfunction in patients with acute or chronic liver disease and/or portosystemic shunting of blood flow. The pathophysiology of this disease is quite complex, as it involves overproduction and reduced metabolism of various neurotoxins, particularly ammonia. Recent hypotheses implicate low-grade cerebral edema as a final common pathway for the pathophysiology of HE. Management of this condition is multifaceted and requires several steps: elimination of precipitating factors; removal of toxins, both by reducing them at their source and by augmenting scavenging pathways; modulation of resident fecal flora; proper nutritional support; and downregulation of systemic and gut-derived inflammation.