Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois. Electronic address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Approximately 3.7% of patients in primary care settings have chronic liver disease, and 18% with chronic liver disease in the specialty care setting have cirrhosis. For cirrhotic patients without complications, prognosis is generally favorable; increased morbidity and mortality are observed when complications (i.e., hepatic encephalopathy [HE]) occur. HE occurs in up to 70% of patients with cirrhosis. Neurologic signs in HE span a wide spectrum, from those not easily apparent (covert) to more clinically obvious signs (overt). Providers should consider overt HE in patients with cirrhosis and signs of impaired cognition, confusion, consciousness and/or personality changes, and/or impaired memory. Overt HE treatment includes identifying and treating precipitating factors and reducing bacterial-derived toxin loads. For acute overt HE, lactulose is first-line treatment. To prevent HE recurrence, lactulose plus rifaximin is recommended. Patients with cirrhosis and HE often present in primary care; recognizing and properly managing HE are important in this setting.