A new traffic light color-coded blood test can expose hidden liver damage as a result of drinking over the recommended alcohol limits set by health professionals. The doctors who have established the test have revealed that those who are regularly drinking three to four bottles of wine a week are putting themselves at significant risk.
It is believed that the test could be used by GPs to help to communicate with patients who do not recognize what unhealthy levels of drinking are. Generally, damage from alcohol consumption is only noticeable at later stages, when it starts to do irreversible damage to the liver. The liver is a very resilient organ, being able to repair itself to a certain extent; repeated substantial damage, however, has the potential to cause irreversible damage. Generally, when the liver is in this state, it is so scarred that even if the person is to stop drinking entirely, it’s too late, and they will die of liver complications within 12 months.
Using the traffic light coded test can provide an early warning indicator for a patient. Green shows that liver damage is unlikely, amber highlights that there might be at least a 50% chance there is damage, and red indicates that there is a high probability of liver damage, which could be irreversible. The test is a combination of an experiment that doctors are currently carrying out, including two other tests that help to measure the level of scarring to the liver.
The system was tested out on 1,000 patients at the liver clinic at the University of Southampton and revealed that the test was good at predicting the prognosis of liver disease. Half of the tested patients resulted in showing a red result on the color code, and of those of the group that were followed up, about a quarter died over the following five years. In contrast, none of the green-colored patients died or developed any liver complications.
The preliminary results and testing of the traffic light system have shown that patients are willing to use the style of the test, and the result can have an impact on their current behavior to alcohol. It was revealed that a third of those falling into the green reduced their consumption of alcohol, and of those that fell into the amber or red bracket, two-thirds reduced the amount of alcohol consumed. Dr. Nick Sheron, the test creator, said that people were very receptive to the test as they were curious to discover what effect their alcohol consumption was having on their overall health.
The Department of Health’s guidance on drinking states that men should not regularly drink more than three or four units of alcohol a day, with women at the slightly lower level of two or three groups a day. The Royal College of Physicians recommends no more than 21 units a week for men and 14 units for women. It is also advised that you should have two or three days a week that are alcohol-free to give your liver time to recover from alcohol consumption.