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Traffic light blood test to spot liver damage

30th August 2012

A team of British doctors has developed a “traffic light” blood test that can help spot hidden liver damage.

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With the deaths from liver disease in the UK up by more than a quarter in a decade to 11,500 a year – in many cases due to drinking and obesity - the team from Southampton University hopes that the test could be used by GPs to help identify patients at risk.

Liver disease is often difficult to diagnose until symptoms are advance but the Southampton team say their new blood test can pinpoint patients are risk because it is more precise than existing tests.

The ‘traffic light’ test analyses indicators in patients’ blood, which will change if the liver has been damaged, and combines a routine liver test with two others measuring the level of fibrosis, or scarring.

Patients are then given a colour based on their risk with red meaning it is high, amber intermediate and green low.

Dr Nick Sheron, who devised the test which has already been trialled on more than 1,000 patients, said by telling patients they are on “amber” for example and have a 50:50 chance they have a scarred liver proved a powerful message.

“We find that for most patients this is a pretty good stimulus to stop drinking or at least to cut down to safe levels,” he said.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said the study may prove really useful for guiding the right patients towards specialist care in a timely way.

 

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