Spike in Alcohol Use Disorder Raises Need for Early Detection of Liver Disease

By Jon Gingrich, CEO, Echosens North America

Excessive drinking is defined as more than one drink per day for women and more than one or two drinks per day for men. A single drinking binge can cause relatively mild damage, although this reverses with abstinence. However, if heavy drinking continues, liver damage can progress to several more advanced stages—and may ultimately lead to the need for a liver transplant. 

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Sadly, experts predict the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered psychological disorders or precipitated others, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD and alcohol use disorder (AUD), which is expected to lead to 8,000 additional deaths from alcohol-related liver disease, 18,700 cases of liver failure and 1,000 cases of liver cancer by 2040.

AUD contributes to fatty liver diseases (FLD), including alcoholic liver disease (ALD) and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is a build-up of extra fat in liver cells caused by lifestyle and dietary choices not related to alcohol. NAFLD and ALD are among the most frequent causes of chronic liver disease in the United States and represent the leading indications for liver transplant.

Equally troubling, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has identified a rising trend called high-intensity drinking that involves the consumption of alcohol at levels two or more times the gender-specific binge drinking thresholds. Most binges are associated with holidays, sporting events and 21st birthdays. 

While the liver is capable of regenerating, it has its limits and some of the liver cells die when alcohol is consumed. Prolonged alcohol misuse over many years can reduce its ability to regenerate, leading to permanent damage.

True Costs of NAFLD  

NAFLD is an asymptomatic and underdiagnosed disease that affects 37% of U.S. adults and 70% of individuals with Type 2 diabetes. Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), the more severe form of NAFLD marked by inflammation and ballooning, can lead to hepatic fibrosis, cirrhosis and hepatocellular cancer (HCC) if left untreated. 

NAFLD and mortality are expected to increase in the United States and around the world, raising demand for earlier screening and strategies for relieving the financial burden. A U.S. prevalence study estimated that 85.3 million Americans have NAFLD, and 17.3 million have NASH. These conditions contribute billions of dollars to the country’s healthcare costs.

With early diagnosis and lifestyle intervention, liver disease can often be reversed. To achieve this, clinicians should consider adopting medical devices known as non-invasive tests (NITs) to help in the management of patients with liver diseases. 

Quick, Non-Invasive Liver Screening

Vibration-controlled transient elastography (LSM by VCTE™), controlled attenuation parameter (CAP™) and spleen stiffness measurement (SSM by VCTE™) have been shown to be the most promising NIT. For example, FibroScan is a quick and painless screening that can be performed in less than 10 minutes to provide immediate results at the point-of-care.

LSM by VCTE offers a complete non-invasive solution for liver disease management to enhance exam efficiency and software designed to 1) improve reliability in the diagnosis and monitoring of steatosis with continuous CAP, 2) extend usage among severely obese patients with deeper assessment of liver fibrosis and steatosis and 3) provide task automation features that enable physicians to dedicate more time to patient care.

LSM by VCTE provides scores to easily detect advanced fibrosis and cirrhosis in NAFLD patients, as well as an app that enables users to assess a patient’s liver health, making the interpretation of results quick and easy. This level of technology is critical for helping clinicians expand capabilities in liver health assessment and to cost-effectively and non-invasively diagnose, monitor and manage liver health. 

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