We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is Fetor Hepaticus?

By J.M. Willhite
Updated Mar 03, 2024
Our promise to you
The Health Board is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At The Health Board, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Fetor hepaticus is a distinctive breath odor associated with hepatic encephalopathy, a condition resulting from the accumulation of toxins in the blood stream that compromises brain function. The breath of someone with hepatic encephalopathy is often characterized as musty and sometimes referred to as breath of the dead. Associated with late-stage liver disease, treatment for fetor hepaticus and hepatic encephalophathy can range from dietary changes to the use of medications designed to flush the body of toxins. If left untreated, hepatic encephalopathy can be fatal.

The liver is responsible for filtering and neutralizing toxic substances that enter the body. When liver function is compromised due to disease or injury, the filtration process can be disrupted. Toxins that are not neutralized pose a serious risk to blood health and organ function. Prolonged liver impairment can cause a buildup of toxins in the bloodstream placing vital organs, such as the brain, and nervous system at risk for hepatic encephalopathy.

When the liver fails to filter out toxins, such as ammonia, there is no place for the toxins to go but into the blood. Significant toxin accumulation causes hepatic encephalopathy, or compromised brain function. With hepatic encephalopathy, as the tainted blood moves through the lungs the toxins are expelled in breath, creating fetor hepaticus.

Several tests are used to confirm a diagnosis of hepatic encephalopathy. Liver function tests are the primary tool used to measure organ function. Imaging tests are used to evaluate the physical condition of the liver and check for signs of scarring. Blood tests may also be ordered to check potassium levels and for signs indicative of infection and disease.

Individuals with fetor hepaticus demonstrate additional signs and symptoms of hepatic encephalopathy. Abdominal discomfort, impaired speech and delayed motor movements can occur. It is not uncommon for some individuals to experience impaired cognition and confusion. Personality changes and significant lethargy are also signs of hepatic encephalopathy. During its most advanced stages, hepatic encephalopathy can induce a comatose state.

Considered a medical emergency, fetor hepaticus and hepatic encephalopathy requires timely treatment to increase one’s chance for survival. Individuals with this condition are considered in the late stages of hepatic encephalopathy. Treatment is dependent on removing the toxins from one’s blood.

Individuals with fetor hepaticus and hepatic encephalopathy usually have a significantly high concentration of ammonia in their system. Adjusting diet to limit high protein foods can help reduce ammonia levels in the blood. Severe hepatic encephalopathy cases can require a person be fed intravenously as he or she undergoes additional treatment.

Medications designed to inhibit ammonia production within the digestive system are sometimes given. Those exhibiting significant signs of compromised organ function and those at risk for intracranial swelling may be given mechanical support, such as supplemental oxygen. Individuals with acute hepatic encephalopathy possess a good prognosis if treatment is timely and appropriate. If the person has been diagnosed with a chronic liver condition, such as cirrhosis, he or she is at greater risk for recurrent hepatic encephalopathic infection. Irreversible brain damage and death can occur if hepatic encephalopathy is left untreated.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Certlerant — On Feb 20, 2014
With severe encephalopathy there is a risk of losing important reflex reactions. When a person gets to the later stages of encephalopathy hospitalization may be necessary. The deterioration in the liver leads to the build up of ammonia and other toxins in the body.

Protective reflexes caused by the toxins lead to symptoms like respiratory failure, due to an unnatural relaxation of the gag reflex. It can come to a point where a patient may need to be intubated to prevent aspiration.

Treatment for encephalopathy depends on the underlying issues causing the damage. Alcoholism, hepatitis and fatty liver disease are possible culprits. Even worse, these issues can bring on cirrhosis of the liver, a disease characterized by scarring of the liver, as well as encephalopathy.

The worse case scenario with encephalopathy is when you reach a point where a liver transplant may be necessary. When acute liver failure sets in the mortality rate is greatly raised.

The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.