Evidence-Based Reviews

The psychiatrist’s role in liver transplantation

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Studies have also found that patients with higher education are more at risk for post-transplant medication nonadherence. Higher education may be associated with higher employment status resulting in a busier lifestyle, a known risk factor that may prevent patients from regular medication adherence.11,12 Alternatively, it is possible that higher educated patients are “decisive” nonadherers who prefer independent decision-making regarding their disease and treatment.13

Substance use. The 2013 AASLD practice guideline lists “ongoing alcohol or illicit substance abuse” as one of the contraindications to LT.2 In guidelines from the Austrian Society for Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Graziadei et al14 listed “alcohol addiction without motivation for alcohol abstinence and untreated/ongoing substance abuse” as absolute contraindications and “untreated alcohol abuse and other drug-related addiction” as relative contraindications. Hence, the pre-transplant evaluation should include a thorough substance use history, including duration, amount, previous attempts to quit, and motivation for abstinence.

Substance use history is especially important because alcoholic liver disease is the second most common indication for LT.2 Most LT programs require 6 months of abstinence before a patient can be considered for transplant.15 The 6-month period was based on studies demonstrating that pre-transplant abstinence from alcohol for <6 months is a risk factor for relapse.15 However, this guideline remains controversial because the transplant referral and workup may be delayed as the patient’s liver disease worsens. Other risk factors for substance relapse should also be taken into consideration, such as depression, personality disorders, lack of social support, severity of alcohol use, and family history of alcoholism.16 Lee and Leggio16 developed the Sustained Alcohol Use Post-Liver Transplant (SALT) score to identify patients who were at risk for sustained alcohol use posttransplant. The 4 SALT criteria are:

  • >10 drinks per day at initial hospitalization (+4 points)
  • multiple prior rehabilitation attempts (+4 points)
  • prior alcohol‐related legal issues (+2 points), and
  • prior illicit substance abuse (+1 point).

A SALT score can range from 0 to 11. Lee et al17 found a SALT score ≥5 had a 25% positive predictive value (95% confidence interval [CI]: 10% to 47%) and a SALT score of <5 had a 95% negative predictive value (95% CI: 89% to 98%) for sustained alcohol use post‐LT. Thus, the 2013 AASLD guideline cautions against delaying evaluation based on the 6-month abstinence rule, and instead recommends early transplant referral for patients with alcoholic liver disease to encourage such patients to begin addiction treatment.2

As part of the substance use history, it is important to ask about the patient’s smoking history. Approximately 60% of LT candidates have a history of smoking cigarettes.18 Tobacco use history is associated with increased post-transplant vascular complications, such as hepatic artery thrombosis or stenosis, portal vein thrombosis, and deep vein thrombosis.19 The 2013 AASLD guideline recommends that tobacco use should be prohibited in LT candidates.2 Pungpapong et al19 reported that smoking cessation for at least 2 years prior to transplant led to a significantly decreased risk of developing arterial complications, with an absolute risk reduction of approximately 16%.

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