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Simple £50 test developed in Southampton can detect early signs of liver damage
A SIMPLE yet revolutionary “traffic light” test developed in Southampton could prevent hundreds of alcohol-related deaths a year and save cash-strapped health bosses thousands of pounds.
The Southampton Traffic Light (STL) test costs just £50 but can detect previously hidden signs of liver damage before the disease has a chance to develop liver failure that can end in death within just a few months.
Having this simple test could diagnose the disease much earlier, allowing those at risk to save their own lives by changing their drinking habits before it is too late.
It comes just 24 hours after the Daily Echo revealed that cheap booze deals in Southampton’s bars and clubs had been branded “immoral” by the city’s licensing chief and “ethically and morally wrong” by the British Liver Association which warned of the dangers of heavy binge drinking by students.
Devised by Dr Nick Sheron and his colleagues at the University of Southampton and Southampton General Hospital, the test appeared to help reduce drinking rates in people with the highest risk of liver disease.
Results have shown that overall, of those who have had the test, 42 per cent reduced their drinking rate and more importantly, 65 per cent of those in the high risk group of harmful drinkers reduced their alcohol intake to a non-harmful level.
Since 1996 there have been about 4,000 admissions to Southampton General Hospital with cirrhosis and 75 per cent of them won’t have known they had it – but this test could change that.
Consultant hepatologist Dr Sheron said: “Patients are developing alcohol-related liver disease in the community but it is not being picked up until they are admitted to hospital, by which time it is too late for many of them.
“It is possible that hundreds of lives could be saved by having a simple test, like the STL test, available in the community, not to mention NHS resources.”
This test which could be used by GPs, combines several different tests and clinical markers which are given a score that indicates the patient’s likelihood of developing liver fibrosis and liver cirrhosis.
The result comes in three colours. Red means that the patient probably has liver scarring – fibrosis – and may even have cirrhosis, green means that there is no cirrhosis and the patient is highly unlikely to die from liver disease over the next five years.
Amber means there is at least a 50:50 chance of scarring and patients are advised to reduce or avoid drinking to avert further disease progression.
During the study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research Research for Patient Benefit Programme, the STL test was used on 393 heavy drinkers.
In the vast majority of patients with a red test, the usual panel of liver blood tests were entirely normal, so there was no way that GPs would have been able to pick up the hidden liver disease and warn their patients of the impending problem.
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