Ethane exhalation was measured in 42 control subjects, 52 patients with various non-alcoholic liver diseases, and 89 alcohol abusers who had been admitted to hospital for alcohol withdrawal and assessment of liver disease (six with normal liver tests, 10 with steatosis with or without fibrosis, six with alcoholic hepatitis, 29 with cirrhosis, 34 with both cirrhosis and alcoholic hepatitis, and four with both cirrhosis and a hepatocellular carcinoma). Ethane exhalation was similar in control subjects and in patients with non-alcoholic liver diseases, but was five times higher in alcohol abusers. Ethane exhalation in alcohol abusers was significantly, but very weakly, correlated with the daily ethanol intake before hospital admission, and the histological score for steatosis, but not with the inflammation or alcoholic hepatitis scores. Ethane exhalation was inversely correlated with the duration of abstinence before the test. In nine alcoholic patients, the exhalation of ethane was measured repeatedly, and showed slow improvement during abstinence. Ethane exhalation was significantly but weakly correlated with the Pugh's score in patients with alcoholic cirrhosis. It is concluded that the mean ethane exhalation is increased in alcohol abusers. One of the possible mechanisms may be the presence of oxidizable fat in the liver. The weak correlation with the Pugh's score is consistent with the contribution of many other factors in the progression to severe liver disease.
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