People who drink too much should be sent for liver scans, says NICE

Scans could detect early liver diseases, according to new draft guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
Liver scan

Patients who drink too much should be sent for scans to detect early liver diseases, according to new draft guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

A liver scan could avoid the need for an invasive biopsy. Picture: iStock

NICE says who men who drink more than 50 units a week, and women who drink more than 35 units, should be sent for scans by their GP.

It is estimated that 1.9 million people in England fall into this category of ‘high risk’ drinking, according to figures from Public Health England.

Liver disease is the fifth largest cause of death in England and Wales, according to the British Liver Trust.

More than 4,000 people die from cirrhosis every year in the UK, and 700 need a liver transplant. Cirrhosis is the result of long-term, continuous damage to the liver, which leads to scarring.

Preventing biopsy

NICE says offering patients scans would avoid the need for an invasive liver biopsy, and ensure they receive the treatment and support needed to manage their condition.

‘Many people with liver disease do not show symptoms until it is too late,’ said NICE deputy chief executive Gillian Leng.

‘If it is tackled at an early stage, simple lifestyle changes or treatments can be enough for the liver to recover. Early diagnosis is vital, as is action to prevent and halt the damage that drinking too much alcohol can do.

‘This draft quality standard makes a number of important suggestions to improve care for those with liver disease, from offering advice to less invasive testing.’

Liver fibrosis

The draft quality standard on liver disease, which is out for consultation, also calls for all people diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease to be regularly tested for advanced liver fibrosis. This will ensure that they can manage their condition and prevent it developing into cirrhosis.

NICE is also calling for all adults and young people with cirrhosis to go for ultrasound scans for hepatocellular carcinoma every six months, in a bid to improve earlier diagnosis.

The institute also supports improvements in treatment to prevent vein bleeds in some adults and young people with cirrhosis. An estimated 2,687 people could be eligible for treatment each year.

The consultation on the draft quality standard is open until 2 February 2017.

Further information

NICE draft quality standard

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