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Equine Health Resource

Hepatic Encephalopathy

Synonyms: Ammonia Toxicity

Hepatic encephalopathy is abnormal brain function and behavior caused by the buildup of natural toxins in the body when the liver has failed to detoxify or remove them from the blood. The liver is vital for the conversion of certain metabolic waste products into less toxic products that are removed from the body.

Ammonia is a product of the breakdown of dietary protein. In normal healthy animals, the liver converts ammonia into urea, which is excreted in urine. If the liver is damaged, it loses this function and these toxic waste products build up in the blood.

Hepatic encephalopathy happens with severe liver failure. In horses suffering from liver failure, blood ammonia and other toxic substances build up in the blood, body and brain tissue. This affects brain function, causing signs similar to those associated with some other brain diseases.

DIAGNOSIS of liver failure requires blood testing to measure liver function, levels of toxic products ,building up in blood.

TREATMENT of liver failure is mostly nursing care, removal or treatment of the agent or the process that is damaging the liver. Dietary management (usually reduced protein) to reduce the production of ammonia and other toxic byproducts is an important part of treatment.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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