Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up
Font Size

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

9 Tips for Smooth Digestion

Want a "recipe" for smoother digestion? Try these nine tips. They'll help you prevent symptoms such as bloating, belching, or burning. Of course, if you have any digestive symptoms that persist, see your doctor. 1. Add Fiber to Your Diet   Fiber is the edible parts of plants that can't be digested.  It adds bulk to stool and passes quickly through your intestine, helping prevent constipation. For smoother digestion, try to add more high-fiber foods, such as: Vegetables Fruits ...

Read the 9 Tips for Smooth Digestion 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

1

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 17, 2012
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.
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?
 
top foods for probiotics
Slideshow
couple eating at cafe
Article
 
sick child
Slideshow
Woman blowing bubble gum
Slideshow
 
Woman with crohns in pain
Slideshow
Woman with stomach pain
Slideshow
 
diet for diverticulitis
Video
what causes diarrhea
Video