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BackgroundDeaths from liver cirrhosis have increased at least 8 fold since the 1970's in the UK and further increases are anticipated, whereas in the rest of Europe liver deaths are decreasing. In the UK, we urgently need strategies to detect those who misuse alcohol and are at risk of developing alcoholic liver disease before they get to that point. One potential strategy is to screen admissions to hospital with alcohol related conditions for evidence of alcohol misuse.Surprisingly, there has been no research into the important question of where the opportunities are to detect those who misuse alcohol - primary or secondary care. We attempted to answer this firstly by conducting a retrospective analysis of the medical notes of 94 patients diagnosed with alcohol induced liver cirrhosis between 1st January 1995 and 31st December 2000 at Southampton General Hospital with the purpose of identifying admissions to hospital prior to a diagnosis of alcoholic liver disease. In the second part of the study, we interviewed patients with alcoholic liver disease about their contact with health services.ResultsBefore diagnosis of alcoholic liver disease, 33% (31/94) of the patients had had an admission to hospital for an alcohol related condition. There was a mean of 7 years and 1 month (SD 6 years 3 months) between the first alcohol-related admission and presentation with alcoholic liver disease (in those who had had admissions). The commonest reason for alcohol related admission was falls/fractures/injuries, followed by non-variceal gastro-intestinal bleeds. Patients with alcoholic liver disease who were interviewed had seen their General Practitioner on average at least 2 times per year.ConclusionMost patients who develop alcohol-induced cirrhosis do not have an admission to hospital with an alcohol related condition before developing alcoholic liver disease. Therefore, if we screen patients admitted to hospital with alcohol related conditions for evidence of alcohol misuse, we could potentially detect around a third of those at risk of developing cirrhosis. Although secondary care has an important role to play in detecting those at risk, the main opportunity for detection is in primary care.

Original publication




Journal article


Substance abuse treatment, prevention, and policy

Publication Date





Histopathology Department, Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust, Southampton General Hospital, Tremona Road, Southampton, SO16 6YD, UK.


Liver, Humans, Liver Diseases, Alcoholic, Patient Admission, Severity of Illness Index, Retrospective Studies, Prospective Studies, Adolescent, Adult, Middle Aged, Hospitals, General, Primary Health Care, Patient Acceptance of Health Care, Female, Male, Interviews as Topic, Young Adult, United Kingdom