(StatePoint) Approximately 30 million people in the U.S. have some form of liver disease, which occurs in people for many different reasons. Some common types and causes of liver disease include hepatitis, caused by viruses A, B, and C, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is caused by too much fat in the liver cells, and alcohol-related liver disease, caused by consuming too much alcohol. Having liver disease over a long period of time can result in cirrhosis, an advanced chronic liver disease, which then puts a patient at risk for hepatic encephalopathy (HE) – a serious complication of advanced liver disease.
“Up to 80 percent of patients with cirrhosis can develop HE. This condition can have very debilitating effects on patients and takes a toll on caregivers, especially as the condition progresses,” says Dr. Howard Franklin, vice president of Medical Affairs and Strategy at Salix Pharmaceuticals. “However, many patients with liver disease, especially younger patients, are not even aware they are at risk for developing HE, so early recognition of signs and symptoms is critical.”
A Closer Look at HE
In patients with advanced chronic liver disease, the liver is damaged so it cannot filter toxins out of the blood the way a healthy liver would. These toxins can then build up and travel through the body until they reach the brain. The buildup of these toxins in the brain can then lead to the symptoms of HE.
Onset of HE can start slowly, and at first, people with the condition may not even be aware they have it. Family or friends may often be the first to notice someone with HE is acting differently. Symptoms of HE, which can encompass both mental and physical symptoms, may vary for each person and include:
• Mental symptoms - Forgetfulness, confusion, poor judgement, not knowing where you are or where you are going or personality changes
• Physical symptoms - Changes in sleep pattern, tremors or shaking of hands or arms, slowed or sluggish movement, slurred speech and changes in breath odor
In the most severe form of HE, people can become unconscious and enter a coma.
These symptoms can have a significant impact on daily life, such as not being able to drive a car, not being able to work and not being able to care for oneself and having to rely on a caregiver. Proper and early treatment and management of HE can help slow its progression before it gets worse.
Talk to your doctor to learn more about HE and how to manage this condition. Lifestyle changes, such as changes in diet or eliminating certain medications, may also help.
“Once diagnosed and put on treatment, proper adherence to medication is critical,” says Dr. Franklin.
If you or someone you know has chronic liver disease and begins to experience any symptoms of HE, it’s important to talk to your doctor right away. This is the first step toward helping find an appropriate treatment plan to manage the condition.
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