Hepatic Encephalopathy; Symptoms, Stages, Treatment, & Prognosis

Our liver is one of the most fascinating organs in our bodies. Its ability to carry out various functions and regenerate rapidly is unmatched. The magic behind such ability lies in its cells. Liver cells or “hepatocytes” are unique in the fact that they carry different functions by themselves. Liver functions include:

  • Producing proteins, carbohydrates, and fats
  • Producing albumin, which is a protein with several functions including transport of chemicals and drugs and keeping fluids within the blood vessels to prevent body swelling or “edema”.
  • Detoxifying chemicals and drugs
  • Helping to remove dead cells from the blood
  • Inducing the bone marrow to produce blood platelets
  • Processing fats and secreting bilirubin
  • Storing vitamins and minerals
  • Producing coagulation factors which help the blood clot when it leaks out of blood vessels.

Because of such variety of functions, liver disease can be devastating for the whole body. Several functions reflect as several disorders, and their management becomes more complicated.

Liver diseases

Despite how resilient our liver is, many diseases can cause it to dysfunction, some are more destructive than others and, therefore, need more time to cause severe damage. The commonest causes of liver injury include:

  • Alcohol: Alcohol is the commonest cause of liver injury worldwide. It damages the liver by causing its inflammation and placing excessive load on its processing capacity. It also causes the accumulation of fat in its cells, causing further inflammation and dysfunction.
  • Viruses: There is a group of liver-specific viruses called “hepatotropic viruses”, which are viruses A, B, C, D and E. All of which can damage the liver and cause its failure. Other viruses may also damage the liver despite not being exclusive to it including Epstein-Barr virus, Cytomegalovirus and HIV.
  • Toxins: Several toxins can damage the liver including aflatoxin which is found in poorly stored grain. However, due to advanced technology in storing grain, the incidence of such toxicities is rare nowadays.
  • Parasites: Many parasites can damage the liver including bilharziasis, amoebiasis, ascariasis, and fascioliasis. Most of them do not attack the liver directly, but damage its blood vessels or biliary tree which, in turn, causes its damage.

Written by Martin Davis