Type your tag names separated by a space and hit enter

Hepatic Encephalopathy

Hepatic Encephalopathy is a topic covered in the 5-Minute Emergency Consult.

To view the entire topic, please or purchase a subscription.

Emergency Central is a collection of disease, drug, and test information including 5-Minute Emergency Medicine Consult, Davis’s Drug, McGraw-Hill Medical’s Diagnosaurus®, Pocket Guide to Diagnostic Tests, and MEDLINE Journals created for emergency medicine professionals. Explore these free sample topics:

Emergency Central

-- The first section of this topic is shown below --



Hepatic encephalopathy (HE) is characterized by changes in behavior, consciousness, and motor disturbances, associated with hepatic insufficiency and the accumulation of substances normally metabolized by the liver. HE may result from a combination of:
  • Accumulation of ammonia (NH3) from:
    • Protein degradation by colonic bacteria
    • Deamination of glutamine in small bowel, kidney, and muscle.
    • Accumulated NH3 crosses the blood–brain barrier. Astrocytes uptake NH3 and metabolize it into glutamine which causes cellular swelling. Ultimately leads to cerebral edema and cerebral mitochondrial dysfunction.
  • Accumulation of other neurotoxins:
    • Short-chain fatty acids
    • Manganese toxicity
    • Neurosteroids
    • Phenols
    • Mercaptans
    • Amino acids such as tryptophan
  • Increased levels of inhibitory neurotransmitters:
    • Benzodiazepines
    • γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)
    • Serotonin
  • Decreased levels of excitatory neurotransmitters:
    • Glutamate
    • Dopamine
    • Aspartate
    • Catecholamines
  • Other contributing factors to HE:
    • Decreased cerebral blood flow and oxygen
    • Increased glucose consumption and possible hypoglycemia
    • Zinc deficiency
  • Genetics:
    • Inherited errors of the urea cycle


  • Classification based on the 11th World Congress of Gastroenterology:
    • Type A: HE associated with acute liver injury and fulminant hepatic failure (FHF).
    • Type B: HE associated with portosystemic bypass and no intrinsic liver disease.
    • Type C: HE associated with cirrhosis and portal hypertension.
  • Precipitating events:
    • GI bleeding (more common in elderly)
    • Hypokalemia and hyponatremia.
    • Alkalosis decreases renal NH4 excretion.
    • Sepsis (e.g., spontaneous bacterial peritonitis [SBP])
    • Constipation
    • Noncompliance with treatment regimen in chronic liver failure
    • High-protein diet
    • Hypoglycemia
    • Hypovolemia (e.g., post large-volume paracentesis)
    • Azotemia (e.g., diuretic or diarrhea induced)
    • Narcotics or sedatives, including alcohol
    • Zinc deficiency as multiple urea cycle enzymes are zinc dependent
    • Hepatocellular injury
    • Viral- or drug-induced hepatitis
    • Post portosystemic shunt placement
    • Recurrent encephalopathy can occur without precipitating factors

-- To view the remaining sections of this topic, please or purchase a subscription --


Rosen, Peter, et al., editors. "Hepatic Encephalopathy." 5-Minute Emergency Consult, 5th ed., Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2016. Emergency Central, emergency.unboundmedicine.com/emergency/view/5-Minute_Emergency_Consult/307623/all/Hepatic_Encephalopathy.
Hepatic Encephalopathy. In: Rosen P, Shayne P, Barkin AZ, et al, eds. 5-Minute Emergency Consult. 5th ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2016. https://emergency.unboundmedicine.com/emergency/view/5-Minute_Emergency_Consult/307623/all/Hepatic_Encephalopathy. Accessed April 25, 2019.
Hepatic Encephalopathy. (2016). In Rosen, P., Shayne, P., Barkin, A. Z., Wolfe, R. E., Hayden, S. R., Barkin, R. M., & Schaider, J. J. (Eds.), 5-Minute Emergency Consult. Available from https://emergency.unboundmedicine.com/emergency/view/5-Minute_Emergency_Consult/307623/all/Hepatic_Encephalopathy
Hepatic Encephalopathy [Internet]. In: Rosen P, Shayne P, Barkin AZ, Wolfe RE, Hayden SR, Barkin RM, Schaider JJ, editors. 5-Minute Emergency Consult. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2016. [cited 2019 April 25]. Available from: https://emergency.unboundmedicine.com/emergency/view/5-Minute_Emergency_Consult/307623/all/Hepatic_Encephalopathy.
* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - ELEC T1 - Hepatic Encephalopathy ID - 307623 ED - Rosen,Peter, ED - Shayne,Philip, ED - Barkin,Adam Z, ED - Wolfe,Richard E, ED - Hayden,Stephen R, ED - Barkin,Roger M, ED - Schaider,Jeffrey J, BT - 5-Minute Emergency Consult UR - https://emergency.unboundmedicine.com/emergency/view/5-Minute_Emergency_Consult/307623/all/Hepatic_Encephalopathy PB - Lippincott Williams & Wilkins ET - 5 DB - Emergency Central DP - Unbound Medicine ER -