Background: A 6-month abstinence from alcohol is usually required before patients with severe alcoholic hepatitis are considered for liver transplantation. Patients whose hepatitis is not responding to medical therapy have a 6-month survival rate of approximately 30%. Since most alcoholic hepatitis deaths occur within 2 months, early liver transplantation is attractive but controversial.
Methods: We selected patients from seven centers for early liver transplantation. The patients had no prior episodes of alcoholic hepatitis and had scores of 0.45 or higher according to the Lille model (which calculates scores ranging from 0 to 1, with a score ≥ 0.45 indicating nonresponse to medical therapy and an increased risk of death in the absence of transplantation) or rapid worsening of liver function despite medical therapy. Selected patients also had supportive family members, no severe coexisting conditions, and a commitment to alcohol abstinence. Survival was compared between patients who underwent early liver transplantation and matched patients who did not.
Results: In all, 26 patients with severe alcoholic hepatitis at high risk of death (median Lille score, 0.88) were selected and placed on the list for a liver transplant within a median of 13 days after nonresponse to medical therapy. Fewer than 2% of patients admitted for an episode of severe alcoholic hepatitis were selected. The centers used 2.9% of available grafts for this indication. The cumulative 6-month survival rate (±SE) was higher among patients who received early transplantation than among those who did not (77 ± 8% vs. 23 ± 8%, P<0.001). This benefit of early transplantation was maintained through 2 years of follow-up (hazard ratio, 6.08; P = 0.004). Three patients resumed drinking alcohol: one at 720 days, one at 740 days, and one at 1140 days after transplantation.
Conclusions: Early liver transplantation can improve survival in patients with a first episode of severe alcoholic hepatitis not responding to medical therapy. (Funded by Société Nationale Française de Gastroentérologie.).