Minimal hepatic encephalopathy
Minimal hepatic encephalopathy (MHE) is the mildest form of spectrum of hepatic encephalopathy (HE). Patients with MHE have no recognizable clinical symptoms of HE but have mild cognitive and psychomotor deficits. The prevalence of MHE is high in patients with cirrhosis of liver and varies between 30% and 84%; it is higher in patients with poor liver function. The diagnostic criteria for MHE have not been standardized but rest on careful patient history and physical examination, normal mental status examination, demonstration of abnormalities in cognition and/or neurophysiological function, and exclusion of concomitant neurological disorders. MHE is associated with impaired health-related quality of life, predicts the development of overt HE and is associated with poor survival. Hence, screening all patients with cirrhosis for MHE using psychometric tests, and treatment of those patients diagnosed to have MHE has been recommended. Ammonia plays a key role in the pathogenesis of MHE, which is thought to be similar to that of overt HE. Thus, ammonia-lowering agents such as lactulose and probiotics have been tried. These agents have been shown to improve cognitive and psychometric deficits, and have good safety profile. Future studies will better define the role of other drugs, such as rifaximin, acetyl L-carnitine and L-ornithine L-aspartate.