Pathophysiology and management of hepatic encephalopathy 2014 update: Ammonia toxicity and hyponatremia

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Hyperammonemia is a major factor involved in the pathogenesis of hepatic encephalopathy (HE). Ammonia elicits astrocyte swelling and causes brain edema. In addition, hyponatremia, a condition frequently observed in hepatic cirrhosis, also exacerbates brain edema, potentially becoming a factor that exacerbates HE. Therefore, as a treatment strategy for HE, alleviating ammonia toxicity is essential. In addition to restricting protein intake, synthetic disaccharides such as lactulose and lactitol, probiotics that improve gut flora, and rifaximin, an antibiotic with poor bioavailability, are also administrated. Additionally, branched-chain amino acids and carnitine have also been administrated. Moreover, we investigated the current trend in the concomitant use of drugs with different mechanisms of action. In Japan, the V2 receptor antagonist tolvaptan can be administrated to hepatic cirrhosis patients with fluid retention. This drug is also useful as a countermeasure for hyponatremia in hepatic cirrhosis, and elucidating its effects in HE patients may therefore become an agenda in the future. These observations indicate that ammonia toxicity, gut flora control and low sodium control are major focuses in HE improvement and long-term prognosis.

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