To make an appointment with a hepatologist at the UPMC Center for Liver Diseases, call 412-647-1170 or fill out our contact form.
The liver filters toxins from the blood. When you have liver disease, ammonia and other toxins can build up in your brain, causing you to lose brain function.
This condition is hepatic encephalopathy (HE).
HE is often a complication of cirrhosis of the liver.
About 7 out of 10 people with cirrhosis develop some form of HE. The exact number is unknown because the symptoms can be subtle in the early stages.
There are two types of HE.
Doctors classify the severity of HE by stages.
Risk factors that make it more likely you'll get HE include:
If you've had HE once, these things can trigger another bout:
Untreated, HE will get worse. It will not get better on its own.
The only sure way to prevent HE is to keep your liver healthy. People who drink too much alcohol or have hepatitis are at risk for liver disease.
If you have liver disease, you can prevent further damage by:
If you have liver disease, you should see your doctor at the first sign of HE. The sooner you get treatment, the more likely you are to recover.
Mild to moderate HE symptoms include:
Severe symptoms of HE include:
There is no diagnostic test for HE. Instead, doctors will rule out other possible problems. Your doctor will do a physical exam and talk to you about your health history.
Your doctor may order these tests:
The specialists at the UPMC Center for Liver Diseases treat HE as early as possible for best results.
Treatment involves medicine and lifestyle changes. One goal is to reduce the amount of ammonia in the blood.
Doctors treat HE with lactulose and antibiotics to reduce the levels of ammonia and other toxins in the blood.
If you have HE, you should avoid drinking alcohol.
A dietician may also suggest nutritional changes. Eating too much protein produces an excess of ammonia in the blood. You may need to avoid eating meat and eggs.
In severe cases of HE, you may need a liver transplant.