Overt Hepatic Encephalopathy: Current Pharmacologic Treatments and Improving Clinical Outcomes

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The American journal of medicine


Overt hepatic encephalopathy is a generally reversible neurologic complication of cirrhosis. Overt hepatic encephalopathy has been associated with poor hospitalization- and mortality-related outcomes, important given increasing hepatic encephalopathy-related hospitalizations over time. The aim of this narrative review is to provide an overview of hospital- and mortality-related outcomes in patients with overt hepatic encephalopathy and the pharmacologic therapies that may improve these outcomes. Guideline-recommended prophylaxis with lactulose (first-line therapy) or secondary prophylaxis with rifaximin plus lactulose decreases hospital admissions and mortality rates. Rifaximin or lactulose treatment was beneficial for reducing the hospitalization rate in patients with hepatic encephalopathy compared with no treatment. Further, retrospective studies have shown that rifaximin with or without lactulose was effective for decreasing the number of hepatic encephalopathy episodes, hepatic encephalopathy-related hospitalizations, and duration of hospitalization. Ornithine phenylacetate, an ammonia-reducing agent currently in development, is also being investigated in hospitalized patients with hepatic encephalopathy. Overall, data support that prophylaxis for the prevention of hepatic encephalopathy recurrence improves outcomes in patients with cirrhosis and a history of hepatic encephalopathy.

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ePub ahead of print