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Liver transplantation is on the rise for patients with severe alcoholic hepatitis



More transplant centers are offering liver transplantation as a viable therapeutic option for patients with severe alcoholic hepatitis who do not respond to steroid treatment.

“Alcoholic hepatitis is a disease caused by drinking alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption causes fat to build up in your liver cells, as well as inflammation and scarring of the liver,” stated Saroja Bangaru, MD, chief resident at the University of Texas, Dallas. “Severe alcoholic hepatitis has an extremely high mortality and steroids are really the mainstay of therapy. Some alcoholic hepatitis patients do not respond to steroids and a significant percentage of them will die within 3 months. For these patients, liver transplantation is a therapeutic option.”

Dr. Bangaru and her colleagues conducted a survey that gathered data from 45 transplant centers in the United States and found that an increasing number have changed this practice and now offer liver transplantation to patients with severe alcoholic hepatitis.

The survey revealed that 51.1% of the 45 clinics offered liver transplantation to patients who had not yet been sober for 6 months, and 47.8% of transplant centers reported performing at least one liver transplant for severe alcoholic hepatitis. Just over a third (34.8%) of these centers had conducted three to five liver transplants, while only 8.9% of clinics performed at least six transplants. It is of note that most clinics have transplanted livers in fewer than five patients with severe alcoholic hepatitis, Dr. Bangaru said at the annual Digestive Disease Week®.

Patients experienced positive outcomes from these transplants, with almost 75% of surveyed clinics reporting 1-year survival rates of more than 90%, and 15% reporting 1-year survival rates of 80%-90%.

A factor that may have contributed to such positive outcomes was good patient selection based on liver transplant criteria for severe alcoholic hepatitis. More than 85% of center directors believed that liver transplant candidates should have a strong social support system, absence of severe psychiatric disorders, and a completed psychosocial evaluation, among other criteria.

Dr. Bangaru pointed out that the change in treating patients who have not abstained from alcohol is a break from traditional medical practice. “Historically, transplant centers would not consider a liver transplantation as an option unless a patient had abstained from drinking alcohol for 6 months. This rule was due to a concern that the patient would return to drinking after transplant as well as a perceived high risk that patients who continued drinking would miss medical appointments, fail to take their immunosuppressants and medications, and that this would lead to eventual graft failure.”

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