Division of Transplant Director, Mary Lea Johnson Richards Organ Transplantation Center, New York University Langone Medical Center, Rivergate 3, 403 E 34th Street, New York, NY 10016, USA.
Patients with cirrhosis commonly experience hepatic encephalopathy (HE), a condition associated with alterations in behavior, cognitive function, consciousness, and neuromuscular function of varying severity. HE occurring before liver transplant can have a substantial negative impact on posttransplant outcomes, and preoperative history of HE may be a predictor of posttransplant neurologic complications. Even with resolution of previous episodes of overt or minimal HE, some patients continue to experience cognitive deficits after transplant. Because HE is one of the most frequent pretransplant complications, improving patient HE status before transplant may improve outcomes. Current pharmacologic therapies for HE, whether for the treatment of minimal or overt HE or for prevention of HE relapse, are primarily directed at reducing cerebral exposure to systemic levels of gut-derived toxins (e.g., ammonia). The current mainstays of HE therapy are nonabsorbable disaccharides and antibiotics. The various impacts of adverse effects (such as diarrhea, abdominal distention, and dehydration) on patient's health and nutritional status should be taken into consideration when deciding the most appropriate HE management strategy in patients awaiting liver transplant. This paper reviews the potential consequences of pretransplant HE on posttransplant outcomes and therapeutic strategies for the pretransplant management of HE.