Rifaximin has been reported to be effective for the treatment of hepatic encephalopathy (HE) in Europe. However, it is unknown whether Rifaximin is effective for the treatment of HE in Koreans, therefore we conducted a open-label prospective randomized study to evaluate the efficacy of rifaximin versus lactulose in Korean patients. Fifty-four patients with liver cirrhosis and hepatic encephalopathy were enrolled. Thirty-two patients were randomized to receive rifaximin and 22 to receive lactulose both over a 7-day periods. Before and at the end of treatment, gradation of blood ammonia, flapping tremor, mental status, number connection test (NCT) were performed and estimation of HE indexes determined. Both rifaximin and lactulose were effective in the majority of patients (84.4% and 95.4%, respectively, p=0.315). Blood NH3, flapping tremor, mental status, and NCT was significantly improved by rifaximin and lactulose, and the post-treatment levels of these measures were similar for the rifaximin and lactulose-treated groups, as was the HE index (rifaximin group (10.0→4.2, p=0.000); lactulose group (11.3 →5.0, p=0.000)). One patient treated with rifaximin complained of abdominal pain, which was easily controlled. There was no episode of renal function impairment in either treatment group. Rifaximin proved to be as safe and as effective as lactulose for the treatment of Korean patients with hepatic encephalopathy.
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