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Monday, August 30, 1999 Published at 23:18 GMT 00:18 UK


Alcoholics 'passed over' for transplants

Doctors fear alcoholics may abuse their new liver

Alcoholics are discriminated against for liver transplants due to prejudice and a shortage of donors, researchers have said.

They are just as likely to survive a liver transplant as non-drinkers, but doctors often see abstinent patients as more deserving, said the research team.

The researchers also found a high survival rate among recipients of a liver transplant who had been alcoholic and went back to the bottle after the operation.

The rate at least matched that of those who did not touch alcohol after surgery.

Four-year study

The researchers from Saint Eloi Hospital in Montpellier, France, examined the cases of 53 patients who had a transplant because they had cirrhosis of the liver caused by heavy drinking.

Their cases were compared to 48 patients who suffered other types of liver disease.

The patients were studied over a period of four years.

The only significant difference between the two groups was that those who had not been alcoholics were twice as likely to be employed.

But in survival rates, organ rejection and rates of infection or cancer the groups were well matched.

'Poor nutrition'

The researchers said liver transplants were often denied to alcoholics because doctors thought they would not take drugs regularly to prevent the organ being rejected.

It was also argued alcoholics suffered poor nutrition by returning to drinking.

These objections were ill-founded, the researchers said.

Included in the study were 15 alcoholics who resumed drinking after their transplant. They tended to be younger and were three times as likely to be divorced or separated.

But even for those who started drinking again, the overall survival rate was as good, if not better, than that of teetotal patients, the researchers said.

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