Wake Up Call: Urgent Need for Early Detection of Liver Disease as Alcohol Use Disorder Rises  

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By Jon Gingrich, CEO, Echosens North America

Scientists estimate that a one-year increase in alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic will result in 8,000 additional deaths from alcohol-related liver disease, 18,700 cases of liver failure and 1,000 cases of liver cancer by 2040.

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Source: CDC Wonder

What’s more, alcohol misuse contributes to the rise in fatty liver diseases (FLD), including alcoholic liver disease (ALD) and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is related to a build-up of extra fat in liver cells caused by lifestyle and dietary choices not related to alcohol. Together, 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.

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Source: BRFSS

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. But if heavy drinking continues, liver damage can progress to several more advanced stages—and may lead to the need for a liver transplant. 

Beyond the pandemic, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has identified a troubling trend called high-intensity drinking that involves the consumption of alcohol at levels that are two or more times the gender-specific binge drinking thresholds. These binges are typically associated with holidays, sporting events and 21st birthdays. HID is associated with negative consequences, such as injury, aggression and sexual assaults among American college students. 

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Source: CDC Wonder

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

Liver Disease Health and Economic Costs 

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.

Because liver disease can often be reversed with early diagnosis and intervention, it’s important that more clinicians adopt medical devices known as non-invasive tests (NITs) to help in the management of patients with liver diseases. 

Non-Invasive Way to Screen and Monitor Liver Health

The most promising NIT is a non-invasive solution powered by liver stiffness measurement assessed by vibration-controlled transient elastography (LSM by VCTE™), controlled attenuation parameter (CAP™) and spleen stiffness measurement (SSM by VCTE™). FibroScan, for example, 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.

It’s important to look for a NIT that also offers 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. 

Clinicians need an innovative tool like this to expand clinical capabilities in liver health assessment, with the addition of SSM by VCTE, to cost-effectively and non-invasively diagnose, monitor and manage liver health.