The link between hepatic encephalopathy and liver disease (cirrhosis)

How are hepatic encephalopathy and liver disease (cirrhosis) connected?

Your liver filters everything that enters your body, such as food, drinks, and medicine. After your intestines break these down into basic substances, your liver then separates the toxins from the useful substances. Then, your body gets rid of the toxins, while the liver sends the nutrients and vitamins into your bloodstream for your body to use.

But some people's livers are damaged and don't work the way they should, which can be a cause of hepatic encephalopathy. Liver disease (also called cirrhosis) can happen for a variety of reasons. These include alcohol abuse, hepatitis B or C, and fatty liver disease. More than 8 million people in the United States are at risk of cirrhosis, and more and more people are hospitalized for cirrhosis each year.

If your liver is damaged, it can't filter out everything it's supposed to. That means that toxins can build up and get into your brain. The buildup of these toxins in the brain leads to hepatic encephalopathy in many people with cirrhosis. In fact, nearly half of all people who have cirrhosis may also have hepatic encephalopathy.

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