BACKGROUND & AIMS: Minimal hepatic encephalopathy (MHE) is the mildest form in the spectrum of hepatic encephalopathy. This cross-sectional study was carried out to elucidate the role of bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine and delayed intestinal transit among patients with MHE.
METHODS: Two-hundred-thirty patients with cirrhosis were screened; 102 patients (44.4%) who met the eligibility criteria were included in the study. MHE was diagnosed when the psychometric hepatic encephalopathy score was -5. All patients underwent a glucose breath test for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and lactulose breath test for oro-cecal transit time (OCTT).
RESULTS: Fifty-seven (55.9%) patients with cirrhosis had MHE. Among these patients with MHE, 22 (38.6%) had SIBO, while 4 (8.9%) without MHE had SIBO (p=0.001). The prevalence of SIBO was higher in patients with CTP classes B and C (69.2%) compared to those in CTP class A (30.8%); p=0.054. OCTT was significantly prolonged in patients who had SIBO than in those who did not have SIBO (p<0.0001). Univariate analysis demonstrated that increased age, female gender, low educational status, low albumin, presence of SIBO, and prolonged OCTT were associated with the presence of MHE. Multivariate analysis demonstrated SIBO as the only factor associated with MHE.
CONCLUSIONS: Our study conclusively demonstrates high prevalence of SIBO in patients with cirrhosis with MHE. This study gives the rationale of treatment directed against SIBO and gut dysmotility, which may include non-absorbable antibiotics such as rifaximin, probiotics, and prokinetics.