Minimal hepatic encephalopathy is a neuro-cognitive dysfunction which occurs in an epidemic proportion of cirrhotic patients, estimated as high as 80% of the population tested. It is characterized by a specific, complex cognitive dysfunction which is independent of sleep dysfunction or problems with overall intelligence. Although named “minimal”, minimal hepatic encephalopathy (MHE) can have a far-reaching impact on quality of life, ability to function in daily life and progression to overt hepatic encephalopathy. Importantly, MHE has a profound negative impact on the ability to drive a car and may be a significant factor behind motor vehicle accidents. A crucial aspect of the clinical care of MHE patients is their driving history, which is often ignored in routine care and can add a vital dimension to the overall disease assessment. Driving history should be an integral part of care in patients with MHE. The lack of specific signs and symptoms, the preserved communication skills and lack of insight make MHE a difficult condition to diagnose. Diagnostic strategies for MHE abound, but are usually limited by financial, normative or time constraints. Recent studies into the inhibitory control and critical flicker frequency tests are encouraging since these tests can increase the rates of MHE diagnosis without requiring a psychologist. Although testing for MHE and subsequent therapy is not standard of care at this time, it is important to consider this in cirrhotics in order to improve their ability to live their life to the fullest.
Keywords: Minimal hepatic encephalopathy, Quality of life, Driving impairment, Diagnosis, Therapy, Prognosis