Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier
WebMD

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine
WebMD

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion
    WebMD

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community
    WebMD

    Community

    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Font Size
A
A
A

Cirrhosis Complications: Encephalopathy - Topic Overview

When the liver has been damaged by cirrhosis, it may not be able to filter poisons from the bloodstream, especially substances in the blood produced by bacteria in the large intestine. As a result, these substances (which include ammonia) may build up in the bloodstream and cause problems in your brain called encephalopathy. High ammonia levels are a sign of encephalopathy.

Symptoms of encephalopathy may include:

Recommended Related to Digestive Disorders

Living with GERD and Food Intolerances: Trudy McCulloch's Story

I didn't know I had food intolerances until I was in my 30s. I'd had trouble with my digestion since birth. As a baby I had a lot of gas and would often get diarrhea. My mother thought it was because I was a preemie. Those stomach problems eased by the time I was 6 months old, and I was relatively healthy as a kid. But then what appeared to be seasonal allergies kicked in. In fact, by the time I hit puberty, my symptoms were so bad that my eyes would often seal shut with crust, and I had terrible...

Read the Living with GERD and Food Intolerances: Trudy McCulloch's Story article > >

  • Irritability.
  • Depression.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Difficulty with word-finding.
  • Poor short-term memory.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Confusion and disorientation.
  • Insomnia.
  • Coma.

Encephalopathy is most likely to occur in people who have high blood pressure in the portal vein system (portal hypertension). But it may also occur in people who have severe acute liver damage but do not have portal hypertension. Certain procedures (such as shunting, which redirects the flow of blood or fluid through other areas of the body) that help lower portal hypertension and prevent variceal bleeding may actually increase your risk for encephalopathy. Other things that can contribute to encephalopathy include use of sedatives or narcotics, gastrointestinal bleeding, abnormal levels of electrolytes in the blood (especially low potassium levels), excess protein in the diet, infection such as peritonitis, dehydration, and constipation.

Most cases of encephalopathy are treated using a medicine called lactulose. This drug helps prevent the buildup of substances in the large intestine that may lead to encephalopathy. Lactulose is effective at decreasing ammonia levels in the blood and improving encephalopathy.

Side effects of lactulose may include:

If you have had many cases of encephalopathy, your doctor may give you another medicine called rifaximin. This medicine may be used with lactulose to help prevent encephalopathy. In one study, the group of people who took rifaximin and lactulose had fewer cases of encephalopathy than the people who only took lactulose.1

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 14, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
1
Next Article:

Cirrhosis Complications: Encephalopathy Topics

Today on WebMD

man holding his stomach
Get the facts on common problems.
blueberries in a palm
Best and worst foods.
 
woman shopping
Learn what foods to avoid.
fresh and dried plums
Will it help constipation?
 
diverticuliltis illustration
Slideshow
couple eating at cafe
Article
 
sick child
Slideshow
Woman blowing bubble gum
Slideshow
 

Send yourself a link to download the app.

Loading ...

Please wait...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Woman with crohns in pain
Slideshow
Woman with stomach pain
Slideshow
 
diet for diverticulitis
Video
what causes diarrhea
Video