How To Proactively Treat Hepatic Encephalopathy

December 17, 2023

When an individual has a problem with their liver that prevents it from functioning properly, they can develop hepatic encephalopathy, which is the build-up of toxins in the brain. The build-up is caused by the liver not being able to filter out the toxins, which are then usually excreted from the body. This build-up results in mental and physical symptoms, including confusion and slurred speech. It is a serious condition and needs to be treated aggressively. Without being addressed, hepatic encephalopathy can lead to significant deficits and even coma. Hepatic encephalopathy is a debilitating condition that can strip an individual of being able to function.

Consume Less Protein

If a patient has hepatic encephalopathy, they may be required to consume less protein. When they consume protein, it takes more effort and produces more intestinal ammonia, which is usually processed through the liver and excreted from the body. However, if the liver is not functioning properly and the toxins cannot be filtered out of the blood, the ammonia travels to the brain, where it can cause irreversible damage to the brain. This build-up of ammonia in the brain contributes to hepatic encephalopathy.

Doctors will need to evaluate the patient's history to determine if protein reduction is appropriate. This evaluation is necessary because by restricting protein, a patient could suffer from malnutrition. Other strategies for reducing protein include eating more vegetable protein than animal protein. But, if the patient is suffering from hepatic encephalopathy, any help that can be given to ease the stress of the liver is recommended. Whatever the case, every patient needs to be evaluated on their personal medical history.


When it comes to using medication to treat hepatic encephalopathy, doctors may recommend a medicine that reduces the amount of ammonia in the body, which helps reduce this ammonia from accumulating in the brain. A popular medicine to use is called lactulose, which works by helping to flush toxin from the body by drawing water into the colon and causing the patient to have more bowel movements. It also draws the ammonia into the colon where it can be excreted from the body. Staying on a consistent regimen with lactulose is important. Because if the patient is not compliant, the toxins will continue to build up in the brain, causing physical and mental impairments.

Additionally, doctors recommend antibiotics to stop bacteria from growing in the toxins of undigested food. Using these medicines can help reduce the effects of hepatic encephalopathy and helps patients reduce hospital stays or additional bouts of the illness. If the medicines are not used as directed, the toxins will build up in the brain and cause serious complications. These complications include slurred speech, fatigue, and coma.

Liver Transplant

The ultimate treatment of hepatic encephalopathy is a liver transplant, which can be done with both a deceased donor as well as a live donor. The latter indicates a living person would donate part of their healthy liver to the patient. Usually, immediate blood relatives are highly compatible, though friends and other relatives can get tested to see if they are a match. With a transplant, the patient will have a fully functioning liver and will be able to process toxins properly, thus eliminating hepatic encephalopathy. Of course, they still need to be monitored and make changes, because whatever caused the liver damage and the resulting hepatic encephalopathy could happen again. Patients may still need to make lifestyle changes or have some underlying medical condition addressed.

Ventilator Or Oxygen Mask

Hepatic encephalopathy can cause many mental and physical changes, and even after taking all precautions, there is a possibility for the illness to progress. If it creates difficulty in breathing, a ventilator or oxygen mask may be needed to support the patient until toxins can be removed from the body. Without assistance with breathing, a patient could suffer catastrophic events and need additional medical support.

A ventilator is a machine hooked up to a tube that goes down the throat into the lungs. This means the machine is breathing for the patient. The oxygen mask is less intrusive and covers both the nose and mouth and has oxygen pumped through it. It can help force more oxygen down the throat of the patient to aid in breathing. As the hepatic encephalopathy starts being controlled through different interventions, the patient may be able to come off the ventilator or no longer need the oxygen mask.

Avoid High-Fat Foods

Patients need to make their eating habits and intake healthier to improve liver health. Making the liver healthier includes avoiding foods high in fat, sugar, and salt. Furthermore, hepatic encephalopathy patients need to abstain from alcohol and eat a balanced diet, which should contain foods from all the food groups, high fiber, fruits, vegetables, and lots of water. Considering the liver processes everything individuals eat and drink into nutrients and energy, clearly they must try to take care of their liver and control what they consume. And this is regardless of whether an individual has liver problems or suffers from hepatic encephalopathy or not.

Healthy living is important for everyone but has a significantly more impactful connotation when it applies to someone suffering from liver problems and hepatic encephalopathy. Patients should develop an appropriate diet with their doctor and remain compliant, so they have the best chance at managing their condition.

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