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Probiotics can Prevent Fatal Complications for Patients with Liver Disease

Update Date: Jun 07, 2014 10:56 AM EDT
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Hepatic encephalopathy is a condition that occurs when brain function starts to deteriorate due to severe complications arising from liver disease. Patients who suffer from cirrhosis of the liver might develop this fatal condition. According to a new study, taking probiotics can be effective in preventing hepatic encephalopathy.

"This rigorous new research finds that probiotics modify the gut microbiota to prevent hepatic encephalopathy in patients with cirrhosis of the liver," said David W. Victor III, MD, according to the press release. "These results offer a safe, well-tolerated and perhaps cheaper alternative to current treatments."

Victor contributed an editorial in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology on this research. For this study, the team from Govind Ballabh Pant Hospital, New Delhi, India examined patients suffering from liver cirrhosis with an increases risk of hepatic encephalopathy. None of the patients had experienced an obvious episode.

The researchers gave same of the patients probiotics to take on top of their current medications while others took a placebo drug. The researchers found that probiotics helped prevent hepatic encephalopathy as effectively as the common form of treatment, lactulose. Lactulose is effective but comes with side effects, such as diarrhea, boating and gas.

Overall, 45 percent of the liver cirrhosis patients had developed hepatic encephalopathy. People who had the condition lost brain function because their livers could no longer remove toxins from the blood. Patients with hepatic encephalopathy have a one-year mortality rate of just 58 percent. The three-year mortality rate is 77 percent.

"By virtue of its size, study duration and design, as well as the thorough nature of the baseline and follow-up assessments, this study represents an important contribution to the hepatic encephalopathy literature," said Dr. Victor, a practicing hepatologist in the Methodist J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center at Houston Methodist Hospital, TX.

The researchers hope that more studies into preventing hepatic encephalopathy can help prevent the condition. The study, "Probiotics Prevent Hepatic Encephalopathy in Patients With Cirrhosis: A Randomized Controlled Trial," was published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

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