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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — About 13% of people diagnosed dementia According to researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and the Richmond VA Medical Center, it may instead be a reversible cognitive decline due to advanced liver disease.

The new analysis of non-veteran patients and expands the previous works It found that about 10% of U.S. veterans diagnosed with dementia may instead have cirrhosis of the liver.

According to a spokesman for the university’s medical school, it can be difficult for doctors to differentiate dementia from hepatic encephalopathythat is, the cognitive decline caused by liver cirrhosis. If the condition is not detected, patients may not receive treatment that can reverse or stop cognitive decline.

Hepatic encephalopathy is a disease of the nervous system caused by cirrhosisan advanced form of liver disease that causes severe scarring of the liver, according to the spokesperson. When the liver does not function properly, toxins build up in the blood, which can travel to the brain and impair its function, causing confusion or delirium in patients.

The university said commonly available medications could rid the body of toxins and reverse the condition, but without treatment, patients could fall into a coma or die.

The new analysis suggests that doctors treating veterans or non-veterans with dementia – even without a diagnosis of cirrhosis – should consider screening them for liver disease. Early diagnosis of cirrhosis may indicate reversible causes of cognitive impairment, which could improve patients’ lives.