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Our board-certified physicians diagnose and treat many vascular conditions. Call 310-481-7545 to learn more about interventional radiology services.

What is encephalopathy?

Encephalopathy is a general term for disease affecting the brain. Encephalopathy has a variety of causes, but this page will cover those caused by liver damage: hepatic encephalopathy. Normally, a healthy liver filters and breaks down toxic substances in the blood. When normal liver functions are impaired by infection, alcohol, medication, or other factors, these toxic substances build up and can damage many organs, including the brain.

Hepatic encephalopathy is classified using the West Haven Criteria, which has 4 grades ranging from shorter attention span, personality changes, confusion, and coma.

Risk Factors

Liver disease and other factors that affect liver function can cause hepatic encephalopathy:

  • Cirrhosis (liver scarring)
  • Alcohol intoxication
  • Infections
  • Sedatives
  • Surgery
  • Complications from transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) placement
  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Low oxygen levels
  • Eating too much protein
  • Bleeding from the esophagus, stomach, or intestines
  • Kidney failure

Symptoms

Hepatic encephalopathy can begin with mild or severe symptoms, ultimately leading to coma if untreated.

Signs of liver disease

  • Musty or sweet smelling breath
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin or eyes)
  • Ascites

Mild

  • Short attention span
  • Forgetfulness
  • Personality changes
  • Irritability
  • Sleeping during the day and being awake at night
  • Difficulty with fine motor control

Severe

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Severe behavioral changes
  • Asterixis, or involuntary flapping of the hands when arms are extended
  • Lethargy
  • Sluggish movement
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures

Diagnosis

In addition to the symptoms and medical history, tests that may be performed include:

  • Liver function tests
  • Ultrasound of liver
  • CT scan or MRI of brain
  • Electroencephalograph (EEG)
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Electrolyte levels
  • BUN and creatinine levels
  • Ammonia levels

Treatments

  • Portosystemic shunt embolization
  • BRTO or PARTO

For More Information:

For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our IR physicians, please call 310-481-7545.