Background and Aims: Hepatic encephalopathy (HE) is a leading contributor to morbidity in liver disease. While hyperammonaemia plays a key role, the mechanisms of cerebral toxicity are unclear. We hypothesized that serum hyperosmolality contributes to HE during acute (ALF) and acute-on-chronic liver failure (ACLF) through mechanisms that affect the water and solute composition of the cerebral environment. Methods: We performed a retrospective analysis of serum osmolality, cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) solute density (specific gravity, determined from computed tomography attenuation) and clinical HE severity (Glasgow Coma Score [GCS]) at the time of intensive care admission in a prospectively identified cohort of liver failure patients with overt HE. Results: Seventy-three patients (39 ALF and 34 ACLF) were included, of whom 28 (38%) were comatose. Serum osmolality (303.9 ± 15.4 mOsm/kg) was elevated despite normal serum sodium (136.6 ± 6.3 mEq/L). Increased osmolality was independently associated with more severe encephalopathy (ordinal adjusted OR 0.26 [95% CI 0.22, 0.31] for higher GCS per standard deviation increase in osmolality) and lower CSF-specific gravity (linear adjusted β = −0.039 [95% CI −0.069, −0.009] Hounsfield unit per 1 mOsm/kg). Conclusions: In the context of related research, these data suggest that hyperosmolality increases brain exposure to metabolic toxins by blood-brain barrier alteration and may be a unique therapeutic target.
- acute liver failure
- acute-on-chronic liver failure
- hepatic encephalopathy
- specific gravity
ASJC Scopus subject areas