EASL Clinical Practice Guidelines

Introduction

Hepatic encephalopathy (HE) is a frequent complication and one of the most debilitating manifestations of liver disease, severely affecting the lives of patients and their caregivers. Furthermore, cognitive impairment associated with cirrhosis results in utilization of more health care resources in adults than other manifestations of liver disease [2]. Progress in the area has been hindered by the complex pathogenesis that is not yet fully elucidated. Apart from such biological factors, there remains the larger obstacle that there are no universally accepted standards for the definition, diagnosis, classification, or treatment of HE, mostly as a result of insufficient clinical studies and standardized definitions. Clinical management tends to be dependent on local standards and personal views. This is an unfavorable situation for patients and contrasts with the severity of the condition and the high level of standardization in other complications of cirrhosis. The lack of consistency in the nomenclature and general standards renders comparisons among studies and patient populations difficult, introduces bias, and hinders progress in clinical research for HE. The latest attempts to standardize the nomenclature were published in 2002 and suggestions for the design of HE trials in 2011. Because there is an unmet need for recommendations on the clinical management of HE, the EASL and the AASLD jointly agreed to create these practice guidelines. It is beyond the scope of these guidelines to elaborate on the theories of pathogenesis of HE, as well as the management of encephalopathy resulting from acute liver failure (ALF), which has been published as guidelines recently. Rather, its aim is to present standardized terminology and recommendations to all health care workers who have patients with HE, regardless of their medical discipline, and focus on adult patients with chronic liver disease (CLD), which is, by far, the most frequent scenario.

As these guidelines on HE were created, the authors found a limited amount of high-quality evidence to extract from the existing literature. There are many reasons for this; the elusive character of HE is among them, as well as the lack of generally accepted and utilized terms for description and categorization of HE. This makes a practice guideline all the more necessary for future improvement of clinical studies and, subsequently, the quality of management of patients with HE. With the existing body of evidence, these guidelines encompass the authors' best, carefully considered opinions. Although not all readers may necessarily agree with all aspects of the guidelines, their creation and adherence to them is the best way forward, with future adjustments when there is emergence of new evidence.