NICE advises GPs to send ‘harmful drinkers’ for liver scans

December 20th, 2016
NICE advises GPs to send ‘harmful drinkers’ for liver scans

New guidelines issued by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) advise GPs to send ‘harmful drinkers’ for liver scans.
According to new guidelines, GPs should consider referring women who drink more than 3.5 bottles of wine and men who drink more than 5 bottles of wine per week for liver scans. This quantity equates to 35 and 50 units of alcohol respectively. The current recommendations suggest a maximum weekly intake of 14 units of alcohol.
Draft notes from NICE suggest that persistent drinking can increase the risk of liver cirrhosis significantly, and in many cases, the signs are not detected until cirrhosis reaches an advanced stage. It can take years for symptoms to become apparent, and earlier scans could detect issues long before obvious symptoms develop. Early treatment could help to prevent irreversible damage to the liver.
Research conducted by Public Health England suggests that around 2 million people fit the criteria of a ‘harmful drinker’, and scans could help to reduce the number of people affected by cirrhosis.
Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive of NICE, explained that many patients don’t notice the signs of complications associated with cirrhosis until a very late stage, when treatment options are limited. In the early stages, lifestyle changes and medical treatments can help to reduce the risk of serious damage to the liver. Doctors would also be able to support those patients who are drinking more than they should without realising and those that need help to cut down.
Liver expert, Dr Andrew Fowell, from Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, backed the measures, explaining that early intervention and non-invasive testing could ensure that patients receive the treatment and support they need before they reach the stage when cirrhosis causes complications and reduces life expectancy.

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