Blood Test Helps Docs Spot Problem Drinkers

The screen could reduce costs for treating chronic illnesses, study finds

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MONDAY, Nov. 21, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- An alcohol biomarker screening test could help doctors identify problem drinkers and cut the costs of caring for people with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and other chronic illnesses, a U.S. study suggests.

The test measures blood levels of carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (CDT), a chemical that's responsive to alcohol. CDT testing can increase the detection of problem drinkers in a population of primary care patients and results in $212.30 in overall medical and legal cost savings per patient, the cost analysis study found. The report appears in the November issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The test can't indicate whether a patient is alcohol-dependent, but can reveal if a patient has consumed four to five alcoholic drinks a day within the previous two weeks. If CDT identifies a patient with harmful drinking habits, a doctor can try to find ways to reduce the patient's heavy drinking. Problem drinking can worsen chronic conditions and interfere with medications for chronic illnesses, experts note.

While CDT is approved for use as a test by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, few primary-care doctors know about it, the study authors noted.

Peter Miller, a researcher at the Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs at the Medical University of South Carolina, said he is trying to encourage more doctors to use CDT in patients with alcohol-sensitive illnesses. Miller was not involved in the cost-analysis study.

"You'd begin with a self-report questionnaire, and then you might use (CDT) for patients you suspect are heavier drinkers than they are admitting to. It's a more objective test that can corroborate what a patient or his family is saying," Miller said in a prepared statement.

More information

For more on alcohol's effects on the body, head to the American Diabetes Association.

SOURCE: Center for the Advancement of Health, news release, Nov. 14, 2005

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