A Randomized Controlled Trial Comparing Nitazoxanide Plus Lactulose With Lactulose Alone in Treatment of Overt Hepatic Encephalopathy

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Background and Aims:

Hepatic encephalopathy (HE) is a reversible spectrum of neuropsychiatric abnormalities associated with liver dysfunction. Lactulose is a nonabsorbable disaccharide presently used to treat HE. Nitazoxanide (NTZ) has a broad-spectrum activity against urease-producing bacteria, so it decreases ammonia production and is therefore expected to reverse the symptoms of HE. A previous pilot study on HE patients given NTZ and lactulose had encouraging results with regard to amelioration of the clinical picture. Patients showed improvement in mental status and the drug was well-tolerated. Results such as these are encouraging larger studies. The aim of this study was to compare the safety and adequacy of NTZ plus lactulose versus lactulose and placebo in management of overt HE.


In total, 120 cirrhotic patients suffering from overt HE were randomly designated to take either NTZ plus lactulose (n=60) or lactulose and placebo (n=60). The Clinical Hepatic Encephalopathy Staging Scale (CHESS) score was assessed for all patients on inclusion to the study and 1 week from the start of treatment.


Both groups evinced an improvement in CHESS score at 1 week, yet the improvement was significantly better in the NTZ group as the score decreased from 4.15±2.09 to 0.00±0.00 compared with 4.96±2.29 to 1.28±0.91 in patients receiving lactulose and placebo (P-value <0.001).


NTZ significantly decreases the CHESS score and improves mental status in the form of patient alertness, orientation, response to stimulation, and ability to talk. NTZ is safe and well-tolerated apart from infrequent epigastric pain.

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