Alcohol compounds liver damage in hepatitis C
By Anne Harding
NEW YORK, Jan 15 (Reuters Health) - People with hepatitis C who
drink heavily quadruple their already high risk of developing
cirrhosis of the liver, a new study confirms.
About 4 million people in the United States and 150 million
worldwide have hepatitis C, an infection of the liver that is
spread by contact with blood and other body fluids. About 20% of
people infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) will develop severe
and potentially fatal liver damage, or cirrhosis, which in turn
increases a person's risk of liver cancer.
"These results stress the need to counsel patients with HCV
about their drinking habits," researchers from the National Heart,
Lung and Blood Institute Study Group report in the January 16th
issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The researchers evaluated patients who had contracted HCV from
blood transfusions, and compared them with people who had
transfusions but did not develop the infection. In general, HCV
patients had a 17% risk of developing cirrhosis. People with HCV
who reported themselves to be heavy alcohol users had 31 times the
odds of developing cirrhosis than did non-HCV-infected people who
were not heavy drinkers.
"Patients are unlikely to have overestimated or fabricated a
history of alcohol abuse, but they may have underestimated such a
history because of social stigma," the authors point out.
The researchers classified a person as a heavy alcohol abuser
based on whether he or she met one of the following criteria:
having lost friends, family or a job because of drinking; admitting
to have a problem with alcoholism; evidence of heavy drinking from
medical records; or having consumed more than 80 grams of alcohol
daily during the years when he or she drank.
Eighty grams of alcohol would be equivalent to about five or six
12-ounce cans of beer; five or six 5-ounce glasses of wine; or five
or six shots of hard liquor.
SOURCE: Annals of Internal Medicine 2001;134:120-124.
Copyright © 2001 Reuters Limited
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