Two-hundred-and-two patients with alcoholic liver disease whose investigations included a liver biopsy were seen in a district general hospital over a seven year period. Thirty-five percent presented with general gastrointestinal symptoms rather than with overt liver disease or previously recognised excess consumption of alcohol. Recognition of the alcohol problem was assisted by the finding of a raised mean corpuscular volume (MCV) and/or gammaglutamyl transpeptidase (GGTP). The use of these methods of detection is discussed in relation to the rapid rise in alcohol consumption in the United Kingdom, and the high mortality of cirrhosis reported from special centres. Twnety-two per cent of the patients were found to have an established cirrhosis, and there was some evidence that the women were more susceptible to some of the toxic effects of alcohol. Early detection can be enhanced by a high level of suspicion, wider recognition of the significance of a high MCV, and the greater use of GGTP estimations.
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