New traffic-light blood test to show hidden alcohol harm

Updated: Aug 29, 2012, 14:42 PM IST

London: A traffic-light colour-coded blood test can reveal the hidden liver damage caused by drinking alcohol above the recommended limits, experts say.

According to the UK doctors, who devised the test, anyone who regularly drinks more than three or four bottles of wine a week, for example, is at significant risk.

Often damage is only noticed at a late stage as the liver starts to fail, and although the liver can heal itself to some extent, repeated onslaught will cause irreparable damage.

“Amber means we can’t be absolutely sure but there is at least a 50:50 chance that you have scarred liver, and there is a significant possibility that you could die of it within 5 years,” the BBC quoted Dr Nick Sheron, Liver expert at the University of Southampton, as saying.

By the time the patient reaches hospital, the liver can be very scarred and even when they stop drinking entirely, in many cases it is too late and they will die of liver complications over the next 12 months.

The traffic-light test can give an early colour-coded warning - green means damage is unlikely, amber means there is a 50:50 chance it is there, and red means the liver is most probably damaged and potentially irreversibly.

It combines a routine liver test doctors already use with two others that measure the level of scarring, also known as fibrosis.

To try it out, the University of Southampton researchers tested more than 1,000 patients at their liver clinic.

This revealed that the traffic-light test was also good at predicting the prognosis of liver disease.

Half of the liver patients had a red traffic light and about a quarter died over the next five years, whereas none of the patients with a green test died or developed complications.

The study has been published in the British Journal of General Practice.