OBJECTIVES: Cirrhotics with minimal hepatic encephalopathy (MHE) have a poor health-related quality of life (HRQOL). Treatment of MHE is still evolving. The aim of this double-blind randomized pilot study was to assess the efficacy of rifaximin in improving neuropsychometric (NP) test performance and HRQOL in patients with MHE.
METHODS: MHE was diagnosed if any two NP tests (number and figure connection tests, picture completion, digit symbol, and block design tests) were deranged beyond 2 s.d. of normal. HRQOL was assessed using the sickness impact profile (SIP) questionnaire.
RESULTS: A total of 486 patients with cirrhosis were screened and 284 were found eligible. Out of these 115 (40.9%) had MHE, of which 21 refused consent and 94 were randomized to receive placebo (n=45) and rifaximin (n=49; 1200 mg/day) for 8 weeks. At the end of treatment, significantly more number of patients in rifaximin group showed reversal of MHE (75.5% (37/49) vs. 20% (9/45) in placebo group; P < 0.0001). Rifaximin group also showed significant reduction in mean number of abnormal NP tests (baseline, 2.35 (95% confidence interval (CI), 2.17-2.53); 2 weeks, 1.29 (95% CI, 1.02-1.56), P=0.002; 8 weeks, 0.81 (95% CI, 0.61-1.02), P=0.000), compared with placebo group (baseline, 2.31 (95% CI, 2.03-2.59); 2 weeks, 2.03 (95% CI, 1.74-2.31); 8 weeks, 1.97 (95% CI, 1.69-2.25), P>0.05). The mean total SIP score also improved significantly in rifaximin group (baseline, 11.67 (95% CI, 10.31-13.03); 8 weeks, 6.45 (95% CI, 5.59-7.30); P=0.000) compared with placebo group (baseline, 9.86 (95% CI, 8.66-11.06); 8 weeks, 8.51 (95% CI, 7.35-9.67); P=0.82). Improvement in HRQOL correlated with improvement in NP tests. Rifaximin was well tolerated.
CONCLUSIONS: Rifaximin significantly improves both cognitive functions and HRQOL in patients with MHE.