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A Head CT is Unnecessary in the Initial Evaluation of A Cirrhotic Patient with Recurrent Hepatic Encephalopathy

Sumit Kumar, Ronak Modi, Bhavik M. Bhandari, David A. Sass, Kenneth D. Rothstein

Abstract

Introduction and aim. The evaluation to determine the cause of hepatic encephalopathy consists primarily of laboratory testing to rule out infections and metabolic causes. Despite lack of evidence, it is a common practice amongst clinicians to obtain a head CT as part of their initial evaluation in a cirrhotic presenting with recurrent episodes of hepatic encephalopathy. Material and methods. Medical records of all cirrhotic adults admitted to a tertiary care hospital from 2007 to 2010 with hepatic encephalopathy were reviewed. Results. In 67 patients, there were 147 episodes of hepatic encephalopathy where a head CT was performed. Six CTs had intracranial findings explaining hepatic encephalopathy. Two patients had focal neurologic findings on physical exam with no history of trauma, one had a history of trauma with no focal neurologic deficits and two had both a history of trauma and focal neurologic findings. Only one case revealed an intracranial hemorrhage with neither a preceding history of trauma nor positive neurological signs. The overall prevalence of intracranial findings in hepatic encephalopathy was 4% (6/147) and 0.6% (1/142) in the absence of trauma or focal neurologic findings. Laboratory and clinical variables including mean levels of ammonia, sodium, creatinine, bilirubin, albumin, platelet count, INR, encephalopathy grade and MELD score did not have a statistically significant impact on head CT findings (P > .05). Conclusion. In conclusion, the yield of a head CT in determining the cause of change in mental status is extremely low in patients with cirrhosis who present with recurrent hepatic encephalopathy.

Key words. Confusion, Imaging, Liver failure, ESLD, Hepatic encephalopathy

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The Official Journal of the Mexican Association of Hepatology, the Latin-American Association for the Study of the Liver and the Canadian Association for the Study of the Liver

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