In recent years, the proportion of patients undergoing liver transplantation for alcohol-associated liver disease (ALD) has doubled, suggesting a major shift in attitudes related to transplant indication, according to an analysis of registry data.

An operation in the OR VILevi/Thinkstock

“The findings suggest that early liver transplant for alcoholic hepatitis may be leading to broader acceptance of ALD for liver transplant,” Brian P. Lee, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, and his colleagues wrote in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The researchers conducted a prospective cohort study of 9,438 patients with ALD who received a liver transplant from 2002 to 2016. Data were obtained from the United Network for Organ Sharing national database.

Study participants were evaluated for patterns, both nationally and regionally, related to liver transplant for the treatment of ALD. In addition, Dr. Lee and his colleagues completed a sensitivity analysis, which evaluated specific clinical parameters, including patient and graft survival, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), and hepatitis C viral (HCV) infection.

“Because there is no national policy regarding early liver transplant, we hypothesized that changes may vary regionally as liver transplant programs shifted their attitudes toward increased acceptance of early liver transplant for alcoholic hepatitis and ALD,” the researchers wrote.

After analysis, the researchers found that liver transplantation for patients with ALD increased proportionally from 24.2% to 36.7% from 2002 to 2016, respectively. With HCV-infected recipients included, the proportion of liver transplants rose from 15.3% to 30.6% over the same period, representing a twofold increase of transplants received for this indication.

The degree of increase was reported to vary based on geographic region and was linked with differences in patient-specific factors.

“There may be regional disparities in access to liver transplant for ALD; whether this is related to different attitudes toward ALD and requirements for sobriety is unknown,” they added.

The researchers acknowledged that a key limitation of the study was the use of registry data. As a result, Dr. Lee and his colleagues reported that all conclusions are not causal, but rather only by association.

The study was supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases UCSF Liver Center. The authors reported no conflicts of interests.

SOURCE: Lee BP et al. JAMA Intern Med. 2019 Jan 22. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.6536.