LAS VEGAS – Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, alcohol-related liver disease has increased in severity, a finding that is likely related to higher consumption of alcohol and reduced care. The difference was notable in higher Model for End-Stage Liver Disease–sodium (MELD-Na) scores, more signs of hepatic decompensation, and higher mortality rates.
“Alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic led to increased morbidity and mortality, specifically in patients that already had underlying liver disease. The importance of alcohol cessation, counseling, and close physician monitoring is emphasized, given continued or relapsed alcohol consumption can significantly affect quality of life, life expectancy, and liver transplantation candidacy,” research team member Lindsay A. Sobotka, DO, said in an interview. Dr. Sobotka is an assistant professor of gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Columbus.
The research was presented by Ayushi Jain, MD, at the annual meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology. Dr. Jain is a resident at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Dr. Jain noted that
Decompensation rates rose
The researchers analyzed data from patients with alcoholic cirrhosis or alcoholic hepatitis who were seen at the Ohio State University Medical Center between March and August 2019, and between March and August 2020.
During the pandemic, the number of hospital admissions nearly doubled among alcoholic hepatitis patients (86 to 162), but declined slightly among patients with alcoholic cirrhosis (613 to 528), possibly because of efforts to manage decompensation and avoid hospitalizations during the pandemic, according to Dr. Jain. In total, 4 of 162 patients with alcoholic hepatitis and 14 of 528 patients with alcoholic cirrhosis had COVID-19 at the time of admission.
Higher mortality rates were seen during the pandemic, although this was only significant for alcoholic cirrhosis: 14.8% versus 7% for alcoholic hepatitis (P = .06) and 13.5% versus 7.4% for alcoholic cirrhosis (P = .001).
Among those with alcoholic hepatitis, there was no significant change in median Maddrey’s Discriminant Function during the pandemic (P = .51), but the researchers noted a significant decrease in steroid use, from 27 patients to 23 (P = .001). “This may be due to a statistically significant increase in GI bleeds and renal dysfunction that we noted during the pandemic,” said Dr. Jain.
Hepatic decompensation and critical care needs increased among patients admitted with alcoholic hepatitis, including hepatic encephalopathy (P = .037), gastrointestinal bleeding (P = .01), a need for increased oxygen (P = .024), vasopressor support (P = .005), and initiation of hemodialysis (P = .007). The median highest MELD-Na score during admission was also higher during the pandemic (24 vs. 23, P = .04).
Patients with alcoholic cirrhosis had greater decompensation as measured by ascites (P = .01), therapeutic paracentesis (P = .04), titration of diuretics (P = .005), acute kidney injury (P = .005), hepatorenal syndrome (P = .002), and spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (P = .04). They also had greater need for vasopressor support (9% to 14%; P = .006), were more likely to initiate hemodialysis (7% to 11%; P = .015), and had greater mortality (7% to 14%; P = .001).
In all, 212 patients reported increased alcohol intake, 161 reported little change over the past year, and 253 said they were abstinent. MELD-Na scores were highest in the increased group (27), compared with the unchanged group (24) and abstinent group (23) (P = .001).