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Study Supports Shorter Wait Time for Alcoholics Seeking Liver Transplant
Date:11/9/2011

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Right now, alcoholics with seriously compromised livers are typically subject to a mandatory six-month "dry-out" period before they can receive a transplant.

Unfortunately, many of the sickest of these patients fail to survive that long. However, a new study finds that earlier transplants can dramatically improve survival odds in those whose condition hasn't responded to medication.

French researchers found that 77 percent of recovering alcoholics given transplants an average of 13 days after suffering a first bout of severe alcoholic hepatitis were still alive six months after surgery, compared with 23 percent of similar patients who didn't receive early transplants.

The 26 selected patients -- who comprised less than 3 percent of all liver transplants at seven health care centers during the study period -- had supportive family members and a commitment to quit drinking, factors considered vital for their potential recovery.

The study is published in the Nov. 10 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The practice of offering liver transplants to alcoholic patients is admittedly controversial, health experts said, because of the scarcity of donor organs and the sense that those who ruin their health from drinking are somehow "less deserving" of help.

"The six-month rule is fair, but not an optimal way of deciding who the best candidates [for liver transplantation] are," said Dr. Robert S. Brown Jr., chief of the Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.

In an editorial accompanying the study, Brown urged reconsideration of the six-month dry-out rule.

"What we need to do is come up with a better way of determining patients who are not going to get better [with medication] but do well with transplant,"
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