Predictors of psychological morbidity in liver transplant assessment candidates: is alcohol abuse or dependence a factor?

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Orthotopic liver transplantation candidates with depressive and other symptoms report poorer perceived quality of life when compared with nondepressed patients, and are also significantly more likely to die while awaiting transplantation. Alcohol abuse and dependence have been associated with increased levels of psychological co-morbidity. This article presents data about psychological morbidity from a prospective study of patients being assessed for liver transplantation in Birmingham, UK, and explores whether those with a diagnosis of alcohol abuse or dependence are at increased risk of psychological symptoms. Of 399 consecutive patients assessed for liver transplantation between July 2004 and July 2005, a sample of 155 was included in the study. Eighty-three (53.5%) patients were identified as having general psychological distress that merited referral for specialist assessment using the Symptom Checklist-90-Revised instrument. The alcohol-dependent group achieved the highest overall ‘caseness’ rates, with 72% (n = 26) compared with 52% (n = 12) of the alcohol-abuse group and 47% (n = 45) of those with no alcohol-related diagnosis. However, alcohol abuse or dependence was not the significant predictor of psychological symptoms in the final regression model. Higher rates of psychological distress were associated with greater severity of liver disease, being unemployed, and being a tobacco smoker. Possible reasons for these findings and potential future management strategies are discussed.

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