1 Best Practice & Research Clinical Gastroenterology Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 95e110, 2007 doi: /j.bpg available online at 7 Management of hepatic encephalopathy in patients with cirrhosis Gavin Wright Rajiv Jalan* Liver Failure Group, The UCL Institute of Hepatology, Division of Medicine, University College London, 69e75 Chenies Mews, London WC1E 6HX, UK The term hepatic encephalopathy encompasses a spectrum of neuropsychiatric abnormalities seen in patients with liver dysfunction. Distinct syndromes are identified in acute liver failure and cirrhosis. Rapid deterioration in consciousness level and increased intracranial pressure that may result in brain herniation and death are a feature of acute liver failure whereas manifestations of hepatic encephalopathy in cirrhosis include psychomotor dysfunction, impaired memory, increased reaction time, sensory abnormalities, poor concentration and in severe forms, coma. In patients with acute-on-chronic liver failure the pathophysiology remains undefined. Ammonia has been considered central to its pathogenesis. In the brain, the astrocyte is the main site for ammonia detoxification, during the conversion of glutamate to glutamine. An increased ammonia level raises the amount of glutamine within astrocytes, causing an osmotic imbalance resulting in cell swelling and ultimately brain oedema. Recent studies suggest that inflammation and it modulators may play a synergistic role with ammonia in the pathogenesis of hepatic encephalopathy. Therapy of hepatic encephalopathy is directed primarily at reducing ammonia generation and increasing its detoxification. The currently accepted regimens to treat hepatic encephalopathy such as lactulose and protein restricted diets need further clinical trials and therefore placebo controlled clinical trials in hepatic encephalopathy are justified. In liver failure, ammonia metabolism involves multiple organs and therefore ammonia reduction will require simultaneous targeting of these organs. The present review describes the pathophysiological basis of hepatic encephalopathy and evaluates the available therapies. Key words: acute-on-chronic liver failure; systemic inflammatory response syndrome; cerebral oedema; ammonia; astrocyte. Abbreviations: ALF, acute liver failure; ICP, raised intracranial pressure; CBF, cerebral blood flow; SIRS, systemic inflammatory response syndrome. * Corresponding author. Tel.: þ ; Fax: þ address: (R. Jalan) /$ - see front matter ª 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
2 96 G. Wright and R. Jalan INTRODUCTION Hepatic encephalopathy (HE) is a neuropsychiatric syndrome that may develop with liver insufficiency. In acute liver failure (ALF), HE defines the severity of disease and may progress from confusion to coma, with potential intracranial hypertension, brain herniation and death. 1 In cirrhosis, 2,3 HE usually occurs insidiously with wide ranging neuropsychiatric disturbances (e.g. psychomotor dysfunction, impaired memory, decreased reaction time, diminished attention, sensory abnormalities and poor concentration). Patients with cirrhosis can deteriorate and develop cerebral changes indistinct from ALF (acute-on-chronic liver failure; ACLF). This would suggest that the pathogenesis of HE with any acute liver injury (ALF and ACLF), is independent of chronicity. 4 Ammonia, inflammation and modulation of cerebral blood flow (CBF) autoregulation are central to the development of HE, and with the predisposing factors which trigger acute liver injury, have become important therapeutic targets in the management of HE. Adherence to consensus guidelines only provides an outline to what may be differing ideas on therapeutic goals. In this chapter we will discuss, pathogenesis, nomenclature and therapeutic options involved with managing this complex neuropsychiatric syndrome. NOMENCLATURE The wide range of neuropsychiatric presentations (especially if subclinical) has made comparative interpretation of studies into HE problematic. 5,6 This led to the development of consensus terminology by the World Congress of Gastroenterology in 2002 to classify hepatic encephalopathy: 7 Type A: ALF. Type B : portal-systemic bypass without intrinsic hepato-cellular disease. Type C: cirrhosis and portal hypertension with portal-systemic shunts. Also, the varied clinical course that an individual may present with includes: Acute encephalopathy. Recurrent encephalopathy: episodic mental alterations in cirrhotic patients even in the absence of a recognised precipitating factor. Persistent encephalopathy: unresolved neurological deficit which may persist despite complete reversal of the liver injury (e.g. successful orthotopic liver transplantation) or removal of precipitant. Minimal or subclinical encephalopathy: despite absence of overt encephalopathy, mild cognitive abnormalities remain; detected by psychometric or neurophysiologic tests. This is present in 60e80% of patients with established liver disease. CLINICAL STAGING Although the West Haven criteria is a specific staging classification of altered mental state in liver injury, 8 the Glasgow coma scale 9 as a robust assessment of consciousness in structural and metabolic brain disorders, is a useful staging system as well.
3 Hepatic encephalopathy in patients with cirrhosis 97 PATHOGENESIS OF HE Although many factors have been implicated in the pathogenesis of HE, it is the interplay between ammonia, inflammatory responses and auto-regulation of cerebral haemodynamics (the multiple-hit hypothesis ) that appears most important. Ammonia Although arterial ammonia level (at admission) is an independent predictor of outcome 10 and a plasma ammonia level >150umol/L is associated with brain herniation, 11 there is no linear correlation between arterial ammonia level and HE grade. Postmortem brain tissue from cirrhotic patients with hepatic coma and animal models of liver failure, 12 suggest that ammonia may be related to the development of HE by propagating astrocyte swelling and cerebral oedema. In liver failure, progressive ammonia uptake in astrocytes, increases levels of the osmolyte glutamine (catalysed by glutamine synthetase) with accumulation of water due the osmotic imbalance. 2 Inter-organ ammonia metabolism is important in HE (Figure 1). 13 Ammonia is produced primarily from uptake of glutamine in the intestine, forming glutamate and ammonia, through the actions of glutaminase. 13,14 The activity of this enzyme increases in cirrhosis and correlates with the severity of minimal HE. 15 Intestinal bacteria with urease activity also produce ammonia in the gut. However, evidence of a role for Helicobacter pylori is scanty and eradication of H. pylori does not lower plasma ammonia or improves encephalopathy. 16 Normal liver converts ammonia to urea in periportal hepatocytes, and to glutamine in perivenous hepatocytes, but with disease or portal-systemic shunting ammonia may reach toxic levels within the portal vein. In normal subjects, 50% of arterial ammonia is metabolised by skeletal muscle. 17 As muscle glutamine synthetase activity is up-regulated in liver failure leading to an increase glutamine levels and lower plasma ammonia, 14 muscle could be an alternative target for ammonia detoxification. 14,17 As the gut is the principle ammoniagenic organ, the mainstay of ammonia-lowering therapy is purgatives, especially the disaccharides, lactulose (beta-galactosidofructose) and lactitol (beta-galactosidosorbitol). The microvillus membranes of small bowel enterocytes lack a specific disaccharidase, permitting entry of these disaccharides into the colon. Both are broken down by bacterial flora to short chain fatty acids (e.g. lactic acid and acetic acid) lowering colonic ph (w5.0), converting NH 3 to non-absorbable Figure 1. The role of skeletal muscle in inter-organ ammonia metabolism in patients with liver failure.
4 98 G. Wright and R. Jalan NH 4 þ which remains in the colon, reducing plasma ammonia. The ammonia-lowering effect also occurs by hyperosmolar purgative effect (increasing stool volume and nitrogen compound loss), selection of Lactobacillus spp. over urease-containing bacteria, increased bacterial ammonia utilisation and decreased production of potentially toxic short-chain fatty acids (e.g. propionate, butyrate, valerate). Many factors interact with the effect of ammonia on astrocytes like electrolyte imbalance, cytokine levels and alterations in receptor concentrations. Anecdotal evidence from patients with ACLF, suggests that hyponatraemia is implicit to the progression to cerebral oedema. 4 A recent study using (1)H-magnetic resonance spectroscopy, suggests that patients with hyponatraemia have significantly lower levels of the organic osmolyte myoinositol 18 which would normally compensate for the rising intracellular glutamine seen with acute liver injury. Hypokalaemia increases renal ammonia production, 19 and if it co-exists with metabolic alkalosis can potentially increase brain ammonia uptake by promoting formation of ammonia (NH 3 þ ) which crosses the bloodebrain barrier, from ammonium (NH 4 þ ), a charged particle which does not. NEUROTRANSMITTERS/RECEPTORS Metabolic and degenerative brain diseases characteristically demonstrate disorders of specific neurotransmission pathways. HE is no exception, with notable effects on glutamine, monamine, serotonin (5-HT), opiate and catecholamine pathways. However, the interaction between these neurotransmitters and other key pathogenic factors of HE like ammonia and electrolyte imbalance are significant. Therefore, it is hard to elucidate the true role of neurotransmitters in this condition and as yet few therapeutic interventions which target the relevant neurotransmitters have proven to be of benefit outside of laboratory and animal experimentation. Later on in this chapter we will discuss the limited therapy available for the treatment of HE which targets neurotransmitter release. However, more detailed discussion of the role of neurotransmitter metabolism in the pathogenesis of HE can be found in a number of other recent reviews. 20 INFLAMMATION/INFECTION Infection is detected in 80% of patients with acute liver injury 21 and its presence at admission is a predictor for worsening HE. 22 Development of sepsis may trigger decompensation of cirrhosis with progression to renal failure, encephalopathy, and gastrointestinal bleeding, with reduced survival. However, the associated proinflammatory cytokine release 23 is as important as the microbial pathogen itself. The term systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) refers to the clinical manifestation of inflammation and describes the dysregulated host inflammatory response whether triggered by infection or not. Aseptic inflammation is just as implicit to the natural history of acute liver injury (e.g. drug induced ALF) and SIRS (in the absence of infection) is as significant to progression of encephalopathy as SIRS triggered by infection. 24 However, it is plausible that in such studies worsening SIRS and encephalopathy are related to undetected infection, therefore establishing the presence of infection is paramount. Of particular concern in these patients is spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (SBP) which is diagnosed in 8e30% of hospitalised cirrhotic patients presenting with ascites and usually occurs in the absence of a primary focus of intra-abdominal infection. It arises by haematogenous spread of translocated intestinal flora via mesenteric lymph nodes.
5 Hepatic encephalopathy in patients with cirrhosis 99 Predisposing factors are: overgrowth of jejunal gram-negative aerobic bacilli and reduced intestinal barrier function and blood flow. In one of our previous publications, 25 we reported a patient with acute liver injury and uncontrolled intracranial hypertension, who underwent an emergency hepatectomy for critical hepatic necrosis (as a bridge to successful OLT). Removal of the necrotic hepatic tissue resulted in a sharp and sustained reduction in the circulating pro-inflammatory cytokine concentration and stabilisation of both systemic and cerebral haemodynamics independent of arterial ammonia. This alludes to a relationship between systemically derived proinflammatory cytokines and cerebral blood flow modulation in the pathogenesis of intracranial hypertension in patients with acute liver injury. CEREBRAL BLOOD FLOW MODULATION In ALF, cerebral hyperaemia often develops, especially in those with malignant intracranial hypertension. 26 Even with medical treatment, malignant hypertension precedes death which can only be treated by orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT). 26 With the 2e3 increased bloodebrain barrier permeability and cerebral metabolic rate for ammonia with HE, 17 elevated cerebral blood volume, besides increasing intracranial pressure, may serve to promote osmotic movement of water across the bloodebrain barrier predisposing to cerebral herniation. NUTRITIONAL FACTORS Patients with cirrhosis (especially if alcohol-induced), usually have a poor nutritional reserve due to anorexia, poor diet, malabsorption, and altered metabolic state. Hospitalised patients are often hypermetabolic and hypercatabolic, worsened by complications such as gastrointestinal bleeding, continued anorexia and fasting for tests. Clinicians were previously advising dietary protein restriction in liver failure to prevent a rise in blood ammonia levels. Recently, the European Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition consensus review 27,28 recommended a normal/higher supply of dietary proteins (1e1.5 g/kg protein and 25e40 kcal/kg per day) to achieve nitrogen balance, which can be tolerated without risk of HE. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) make up w25% of total dietary protein content (highest in dairy products and vegetables). They are a good substrate for protein synthesis, conserving/restoring muscle mass in advanced liver disease. In cirrhosis, poor dietary intake leads to a deficiency of BCAA (while aromatic amino acids accumulate). This creates a marked protein-energy deficit and increases false neurotransmitter precursors, altering glutaminergic neurotransmission. In the few high protein diet intolerant and severely malnourished patients, BCAA supplements may be useful to provide the necessary nitrogen intake without a decline in mental state. As BCAA are under the influence of circulating insulin, the insulin resistance state of cirrhosis, limits their nutritional benefit unless systemic insulin replacement is implemented. Also, enteral nutrition (whether per-oral or nasogastric) is preferential to parenteral nutrition as prolonged TPN may induce fatty liver and inflammation, especially in patients with short-bowel syndrome, and increases the risk of infection. However, a number of meta-analyses have failed to find consensus on the use of BCAA in cirrhosis from a wealth of conflicting data. 29,30 In most patients a modified eating pattern, based on several meals and a late evening snack, is adequate. 29,31
6 100 G. Wright and R. Jalan Cirrhosis also leads to deficiencies of vitamins (lipid-soluble), minerals and micronutrients. Zinc is a cofactor in the urea cycle 32 and is found in vesicles of predominantly glutamatergic presynaptic terminals effecting neurotransmission. 33 Zinc supplementation (600 mg/day) has been trialled without obvious benefit, although replacement should be considered if the patient is deficient. 34 Autopsy specimens from patients with hepatic coma and pallidal MR images; suggest manganese deposition in the basal ganglia is involved in HE. 35,36 However, as with earlier studies evaluating the role of gut bacterial products like mercaptans, phenols and medium- and short-chain fatty acids, 37 there has been little cumulative evidence to support targeted treatment strategies to influence the management of HE. BIOTICS Most of the ammonia produced by the gut is from the deamination of dietary amino acids by bacteria, with a small contribution from the urea produced by urease-positive bacteria. In the critically ill and malnourished patient, levels of the predominant defensive bacteria strains (Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus) decline. Antibiotics may further lead to ammonia-producing bacteria ameliorating hyperammonaemia. Biotics (e.g. pre-, pro-, and synbiotics) are thought to exert an effect in HE by: (1) reduced intestinal ammonia production; (2) modulating pro-inflammatory responses; (3) reducing bacterial translocation; and (4) modulating gut permeability. 38 For example, probiotics (non-pathogenic living microorganisms within food supplements) bypass the small bowel and get fermented by colonic bacteria to form lactic, acetic and butyric acids, and gas (mainly hydrogen), which causes intestinal hurry resulting in expulsion of ammoniagenic bacteria. DIAGNOSIS History and examination The need for a detailed history and examination are fundamental to the diagnosis of HE given a broad spectrum of differential diagnosis (e.g. vascular, metabolic, intracranial and other neuropsychiatric disorders). To establish a diagnosis of HE it is necessary for there to be a history or clinical evidence of liver disease with or without the presence of a precipitating factor(s). With early diagnosis there is an increasing reliance on laboratory and imaging modalities to establish a diagnosis of HE. Findings suggestive of the presence of a precipitating factor must not be missed. For example, spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (SBP) usually presents with signs of peritoneal irritation, pain, nausea, vomiting and changes in gastrointestinal motility (diarrhoea or ileus). However, a few are sub-clinical and will only be detected if diagnostic paracentesis is performed on every patient with cirrhosis, hospitalised with ascites. INVESTIGATIONS Laboratory tests Routine biochemical tests with a full hepatic screen are necessary to exclude other causes of chronic liver disease which could impact on treatment options. The diagnosis of precipitating factors like infection (e.g. cultures) and electrolyte imbalance is critical. Laboratory diagnosis of SBP is confirmed by the presence of ascitic fluid polymorphonuclear
7 count (>250 cm 3 ) or positive ascitic fluid culture, usually monomicrobial (e.g. Escherichia coli or other gram-negative bacteria). The use of a dipstick test for leukocyte esterase (present in biological fluids), provides a more rapid diagnosis. Imaging Diagnostic U/S and CT are the predominant imaging modalities, although there is increasing use of therapeutic imaging (e.g. TIPSS). However, research into the pathophysiology of HE has required the use of other brain imaging techniques: 39 Magnetic resonance imaging: has detected increased manganese deposition in the basal ganglia. Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT): has shown that in cirrhosis changes to the basal ganglia are related to regional alterations of CBF in the cortex and subcortical regions. Positron emission tomography (PET) studies: has shown that in cirrhosis, (1) blood brain barrier permeability and cerebral ammonia metabolism is increased and (2) regional ammonia supply and energy utilisation (using the glucose tracer, fluorodeoxyglucose), correlates to regional blood flow. Neuropsychological tests The use of neuropsychometric battery tests have been limited to research of minimal HE. Although results from most studies have not been easy to compare due to the array of different tests, the common finding in cirrhotic patients is impaired psychomotor speed, visual perception and attention, while verbal ability is unimpaired. Most studies advocate using the number connection test (NCT), digit symbol test and/or the block design test for the diagnosis of minimal HE. However, a standardised test battery, the psychometric HE score (PHES) is frequently used. 6 This uses the line drawing test, the serial dotting test, the digit symbol test and the NCT (A and B), to examine motor speed and accuracy, visual perception, visuo-spatial orientation, visual construction, concentration, attention and to a lesser extent memory. Also, a good performance of all tests will also assess attention. MANAGEMENT Given the wide clinical presentation of HE and lack of large randomised placebocontrolled trials it is hard to translate even the most robust research outcomes into discernable clinical applications. However, the central role of ammonia and precipitating factors in disease progression influence current best treatment which we will outline in this chapter. Most treatment modalities aim to improve on the poor outcome with acute liver injury. However, it is also important that primary and secondary preventative measures are considered for the patients with stable chronic disease and sub-clinical HE. ACUTE LIVER INJURY Hepatic encephalopathy in patients with cirrhosis 101 Improved outcomes for patients with acute liver injury are due to earlier specialist intensive care, treatment of precipitating factors (e.g. variceal bleeds 40 ) and the judicious use of OLT. As time is tissue, early resuscitation limits end-organ failure and
8 102 G. Wright and R. Jalan corresponding mortality. Energy/oxygen expenditure is important to cerebral effects in patients with severe progressive HE. Oxygen delivery can be maximised by improving available haemoglobin (e.g. packed red cells) and by reducing consumption with early sedation and ventilation (maintaining P a CO 2 4.5). Management of cerebral blood flow In the critical care setting improved monitoring of intracranial dynamics (e.g. ICP monitoring, transcranial Doppler, and jugular venous oximetry) allows for the possibility of CBF modulation. In patients with severe intracranial hypertension there is limited data supporting improved survival with certain therapies (e.g. hypertonic saline, sedation (e.g. propofol), and indomethacin). However, current evidence advocates induced moderate hypothermia in the treatment of uncontrolled intracranial pressure, 41 due to improved ICP and CBF, and reduced arterial ammonia and cerebral ammonia uptake; without adverse effects. Circulatory effects Fluid management is difficult in patients with portal hypertension and ascites, given the distribution of total body fluid. Early central venous pressure (CVP) monitoring should be considered to correct any circulatory collapse. However, it is essential to take into account intra-abdominal pressures exerted by ascites which restricts venous return (by w15%). The type of volume expander to best support the circulation is still debated. The recently published saline vs. albumin fluid evaluation (SAFE) study, 42 demonstrates that 4% albumin is as effectiveness and safe as 0.9% saline. Therefore, any fluid (with due appreciation of dosing considerations) is likely to be beneficial. Triggered by significant stress responses, the adrenal axis in critically unwell cirrhotic patients may become compromised leading to circulatory collapse. In a recent study of 45 patients with acute hepatic dysfunction, 43 62% had an abnormal short synacthen test, with adrenal insufficiency inversely correlated to haemodynamic stability (noradrenaline requirements), severity of illness (using the sequential organ failure assessment score; SOFA) and mortality. Certain liver units now perform a routine shortsynacthen test on admission and give a short course of IV steroids (e.g. a total of 300 mg IV hydrocortisone as a reducing dose over 3 days), pending result. If the short-synacthan test is high/normal, steroids should be stopped; but if the response is sub-optimal, a reducing dose steroid regime should be continued (maximum tapering dose over 10e14 days). Inotropes are usually required in the critically unwell patients requiring ICU, with norepinephrine the most widely used. Terlipressin (a vasopressin analogue) aside from its benefits in hepatorenal syndrome may be useful in acute liver injury with hypotension and severe lactic acidosis resistant to volume expansion, or catecholamine resistant septic shock. Caution with terlipressin has been suggested with advanced HE due to worsening cerebral hyperaemia and possible intracranial hypertension. 44 However, cerebral effects are no different to norepinephrine, which may also increase ICP. 45 AMMONIA-LOWERING THERAPIES The most widely used ammonia lowering therapies are purgatives (disaccharides, antimicrobials, and enemas).
9 Hepatic encephalopathy in patients with cirrhosis 103 Disaccharides Lactulose and lactitol are efficacious and well tolerated, with only occasional cramping, diarrhoea or flatulence limiting use. The aim is to achieve 2e3 soft stools per day (ph 6), usually requiring a dose of 45e90 g/day. A recent meta-analysis of 22 studies evaluated the benefit of non-absorbable disaccharides in the treatment of HE versus placebo or no intervention. 46 Selecting just the better quality trials showed there was no significant effect on HE grade or mortality. Also, in this meta-analysis nonabsorbable disaccharides were not as efficacious as antibiotics at improving the encephalopathy or lowering blood ammonia, although the effect on mortality was no different. 46 Antibiotics Despite earlier support for the use of neomycin over lactulose, 47 randomised placebo controlled studies have shown no observed benefit of neomycin over placebo, 48 even in combination with lactulose. 49 Others antibiotics, e.g. rifaximin (at a dose of 1200 mg for 7 days), 50 metronidazole or vancomycin, 51,52 are better tolerated than neomycin (given ototoxicity and nephrotoxicity with its long-term use), but efficacy and possible bacterial overgrowth limit their use. Benzoate Benzoate is used to ameliorate ammonia in urea cycle disorders by reacting with glycine to produce renally excretable hippurate. There is little evidence for its use in adult HE, 53 with a recent study of six cirrhotic patients with minimal HE showing an increase in ammonia level with no effect on HE grade. 54 L-Ornithine L-aspartate (LOLA) In placebo controlled trials administration of LOLA has resulted in improved plasma ammonia 55 and in rat models of liver failure, protection against cerebral oedema. 56 LOLA converts L-ornithine to glutamate in muscle, which utilises ammonia to produce glutamine. However, such studies have not compared to another intervention, e.g. lactulose, and theoretically the glutamine produced by the muscle may be rapidly recycled to glutamate, thereby recycling ammonia in the kidney and gut. 57 Diet Early nutritional support with a normal/high protein load will replenish energy stores and limit protein catabolism, without worsening HE. 58 Disturbed glycaemic and lipid control is common in progressive liver disease and only worsened by the stress response in critically unwell patients. Therefore, once feeding has commenced, tight glycaemic control using insulin is imperative to (1) reduce oxidative stress (which triggers insulin resistance), limit mitochondrial liver damage, and improve endothelial activation (e.g. nitric oxide production), which will improve blood flow (limiting tissue injury) and improve outcome. 59,60 Non-glycaemic effects will also improve lipid/energy metabolism and improve inflammatory and immune responses.
10 104 G. Wright and R. Jalan LIVER SUPPORT AND TRANSPLANTATION The incongruity that exists between donor organs and recipients has led to a plethora of extracorporeal liver assist devices (ELADs) to aid or supplant the failing liver. ELADs are either: Biological (including hybrid & combination) devices: which use either immortalised hepatocytes cultured in bio-reactors or whole animal livers to mimic endogenous excretory and synthetic liver function. Non-biological devices: which use extracorporeal blood purification to dialyse albumin-bound hydrophobic substances (e.g. ammonia, bilirubin, bile acids, aromatic amino acid metabolites and medium-chain fatty acids). The extracorporeal devices under clinical evaluation include the following: Molecular adsorbent recirculating system (MARS): provides counter-current haemodialysis against albumin and bicarbonate circuits. Single-pass albumin dialysis (SPAD): provides counter-current albumin dialysis against high flow blood in a fibre haemodiafilter, which unlike MARS is discarded after passing the filter. As a standard renal dialysis device is used, continuous veno-venous haemodiafiltration is possible. Prometheus system: provides direct albumin adsorption with high-flux haemodialysis after selective filtration of the albumin fraction through a specific polysulfon filter. All these devices successfully remove protein-bound toxins, but may have more variable effects on systemic (versus portal) haemodynamics; and worsen coagulopathy. Currently the clinical benefit of such devices is unclear, although they may offer a bridge to transplantation or liver recovery. Orthotopic liver transplantation Although OLT dramatically improves the clinical status with a return to a normal mental state, there is evidence to suggest that minimal HE may persist in certain patients due to some as yet unknown irreversible changes in the brain. 61 MANAGEMENT OF PREDISPOSING FACTORS It is necessary to identify precipitating events and implement immediate therapy as prompt action may lead to a permanent improvement in HE. Though ACLF may be triggered by such uncommon events, such as sedatives or tranquillisers, vascular occlusion (hepatic vein or portal vein thrombosis) and hepatocellular carcinoma transformation, it is important to outline the management of the more common precipitants. Precipitating factors are: constipation electrolyte and acid-base imbalance infection gastrointestinal bleeding portal-systemic shunts.
11 Hepatic encephalopathy in patients with cirrhosis 105 Constipation Enemas are beneficial as a means of expelling ammonia-producing gut flora either due by cleansing or colonic acidification. 62 However, there is only limited evidence to show a benefit over the use of oral purgatives like lactulose. Therefore if bowel motions can be maintained at 2/day, then there is no need for enemas. Electrolyte imbalance As discussed earlier, there is evidence implicating low serum potassium and sodium in inter-organ ammonia metabolism. It is widely accepted that electrolyte imbalances should be corrected, although the actual level at which certain electrolytes should be maintained is dependent on the clinical picture. A recent study of 30 ALF patients ventilated for HE grade >2, supported the use of induced hypernatraemia (maintain between 145 and 155 mmol/l) as a treatment for the intracranial hypertension. 63 Patients received either standard medical care induced hypernatraemia (infused 30% hypertonic saline). Within 24 h of treatment there was a significant fall in inotropic requirements (P < 0.001) and ICP (P ¼ 0.003). However, as yet we cannot advocate its widespread use in these patients. Infection In cirrhotic patients, early treatment of infection will improve outcome. The judicious use of antibiotics on presentation is necessary (e.g. prophylactic antibiotics for a variceal bleed and treatment of spontaneous bacterial peritonitis), although one should be mindful of indiscriminate use which can lead to antibiotic resistance and harmful implications. The first-line empirical antibiotics for SBP are third-generation cephalosporins (90% efficacious). In uncomplicated SBP, oral quinolones are well absorbed with good ascitic fluid penetration. Given a 69% 1-year reoccurrence rate, prophylactic antibiotics are recommend in patients with one prior episode of SBP or patients at increased risk (e.g. gastrointestinal bleeding). Norfloxacin is favoured for primary prophylaxis. Increasing antibiotic resistance (26% quinilone resistance; 50% if on prophylaxis) has increased the incidence of gram-positive SBP. Prophylaxis for hepatorenal syndrome in patients with SBP is recommended. 64,65 If therapeutic paracentesis is indicated (e.g. ventilation, renal impairment), recent evidence supports using terlipressin with human albumin solution. In patients with recurrent and refractory ascites another option is TIPSS. However, this is associated with worsening encephalopathy. 66 Gastrointestinal bleeding Bacterial infections predispose to variceal bleeding in cirrhotic patients. A metaanalysis of antibiotic use in variceal bleeding, reported a 30% decrease in rate of infection and 9% improvement in short-term survival. 67 TIPSS insertion The creation of a portosystemic shunt (used to stabilise patients with uncontrolled variceal bleeding or intractable ascites), may induce HE (especially within the first
12 106 G. Wright and R. Jalan few months). Prophylaxis against encephalopathy with lactitol (60 g/day) or rifaximin (1200 mg/day) is not proven to be effective during the first month post-tipss. 68 Therefore careful selection of patients for a TIPSS or surgical shunt is necessary. DEVELOPING THERAPIES Neurotransmitters The use of pharmacological agents to manipulate neurotransmission has shown some benefit when trailed on animal models of liver failure. However, though the spectrum of neurological and neuropsychiatric symptoms to target is identifiable, research is needed to clarify specific therapeutic goals given the inter-relationship between multiple neurotransmission pathways. Also much of the established alterations in neurotransmission are due to the direct effect of ammonia, which is easier to target. However, Flumazenil (a competitive GABA-benzodiazepine receptor antagonist), has been used to reverse the inhibitory effects of GABA-nergic neurotransmission. A recent meta-analysis of six double-blinded (mainly cross-over) RCTs on the benefits of flumazenil use in HE, suggest that there is a clinical (P < 0.001) and electroencephalographic (P < 0.001) improvement of HE with its use. 69 Biotics The few studies examining the effect of probiotics/synbiotics on HE in cirrhosis have used differing microorganisms (e.g. Lactobacillus acidophilus, Enterococcus faecium SF68 or fermentable fibre). 70e73 All suggested possible efficacy, although the encephalopathy typically returned to baseline during drug-free periods However, all involved small numbers of patients, with overt HE (rather than minimal HE) and lacked a placebotreated group. A recent placebo-controlled pilot study from China on the use of synbiotics found that synbiotics modified the gut flora, reduced endotoxin levels, increase faecal ph, reduced ammonia levels (w36%) and led to a reversal of minimal HE. 74 Despite the fact these therapies are not currently in clinical use, they are a viable alternative to antibiotics and disaccharides, especially for the treatment of minimal HE. 75,76 CONCLUSION A new approach to the treatment HE is needed. The current lack of conclusive data supports the view that placebo-controlled trials of new agents are needed and ethical. Ammonia is still the main therapeutic target and more focused research on its interorgan metabolism is required. The small intestine and kidneys are important producers of ammonia, and muscle is an important organ that can remove ammonia. Novel therapies targeting these organs are likely to offer worthwhile clinical applications in the future. Currently however, the amino acid combination, LOLA, looks promising but is still not in clinical use. Further understanding of the role of established precipitants of HE are also necessary as aggressive management of the precipitating event has already begun to have an impact on outcomes. The synergist effect of a triggered inflammatory response offers the possibility for intervention with new antimicrobial therapies, nutritional supplementation or modulation of downstream immuno-regulatory and neurochemical pathways. In the meantime, early detection
13 Hepatic encephalopathy in patients with cirrhosis 107 of at risk patients with early intensive therapy as a bridge to OLT is likely to best improve patient survival. Practice points Ammonia is central in the pathogenesis of hepatic encephalopathy. Inflammation and its mediators is thought to synergistically modulate the effects of ammonia on the brain. The routine use of traditional methods of ammonia lowering such as lactulose and protein-restricted diet are not supported by the available data. Although the gut is an important site of ammonia production, a large proportion of the ammonia is produced metabolically from uptake of glutamine. In the presence of the failing liver, the muscles become an accessory site of ammonia detoxification. The kidneys produce ammonia but possess the ability to switch from an ammonia producing organ to ammonia excreting organ. Research agenda Placebo controlled trials in hepatic encephalopathy are justified. The pathophysiology of hepatic encephalopathy in patients with acute on chronic liver failure remains undefined. The role of whether and how inflammation alters the susceptibility of the brain to hyperammonaemia is unclear. Future therapies aimed at ammonia reduction should target multiple organs. REFERENCES 1. Butterworth RF, Giguere JF, Michaud J et al. Ammonia: key factor in the pathogenesis of hepatic encephalopathy. Neurochem Pathol 1987; 6: 1e Haussinger D, Kircheis G, Fischer R et al. Hepatic encephalopathy in chronic liver disease: a clinical manifestation of astrocyte swelling and low-grade cerebral edema? J Hepatol 2000; 32: 1035e Cordoba J, Alonso J, Rovira A et al. The development of low-grade cerebral edema in cirrhosis is supported by the evolution of (1)H-magnetic resonance abnormalities after liver transplantation. J Hepatol 2001; 35: 598e Jalan R, Dabos K, Redhead DN et al. Elevation of intracranial pressure following transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic stent-shunt for variceal haemorrhage. J Hepatol 1997; 27: 928e Gitlin N, Lewis DC & Hinkley L. The diagnosis and prevalence of subclinical hepatic encephalopathy in apparently healthy, ambulant, non-shunted patients with cirrhosis. J Hepatol 1986; 3: 75e Weissenborn K, Ennen JC, Schomerus H et al. Neuropsychological characterization of hepatic encephalopathy. J Hepatol 2001; 34: 768e Ferenci P, Lockwood A, Mullen K et al. Hepatic encephalopathy e definition, nomenclature, diagnosis, and quantification: final report of the working party at the 11th World Congresses of Gastroenterology, Vienna, Hepatology 2002; 35: 716e Conn HO. Trailmaking and number-connection tests in the assessment of mental state in portal systemic encephalopathy. Am J Dig Dis 1977; 22: 541e550.
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