EASL Clinical Practice Guidelines

Introduction

Alcoholic liver disease (ALD) is the most prevalent cause of advanced liver disease in Europe. However, there has been limited research investment into ALD despite its significant burden on the health of Europeans. This disparity is reflected by the ETOh score – the ratio of the estimated population mortality rate to the number of trials focused on a particular disease. The ETOh score for ALD is 358, compared with 1.4 for hepatitis B, 4.9 for hepatitis C, and 15.2 for primary biliary cirrhosis [1].

In recent years however, the mechanisms driving disease progression and the natural history of ALD have been better defined and novel targets for therapy have been identified [2]. In addition, significant clinical research has produced a clear framework for the evaluation of new therapies in particular in patients with alcoholic steatohepatitis (ASH).

ALD is a complex disease, the successful management of which hinges on the integration of all the competences in public health, epidemiology, addiction behavior and alcohol-induced organ injury. Both primary intervention to reduce alcohol abuse and secondary intervention to prevent alcohol-associated morbidity and mortality rely on the coordinated action of multidisciplinary teams established at local, national, and international levels.

These guidelines are largely based on the issues raised during the EASL monothematic conference on ALD held in Athens in 2010. The guidelines have three main aims: (1) to provide physicians with clinical recommendations; (2) to emphasize the fact that alcohol can cause several liver diseases (steatosis, steatohepatitis, cirrhosis), all of which may coexist in the same patient; (3) to identify areas of interest for future research, including clinical trials.

The evidence and recommendations in these guidelines have been graded according to the Grading of Recommendations Assessment Development and Evaluation (GRADE) system [3]. The strength of recommendations thus reflects the quality of underlying evidence. The principles of the GRADE system have been enunciated. The quality of the evidence in these clinical practical guidelines (CPGs) has been classified into one of three levels: high (A), moderate (B) or low (C). The GRADE system offers two grades of recommendation: strong (1) or weak (2) (Table 1). The CPGs thus consider the quality of evidence: the higher the quality of evidence, the more likely a strong recommendation is warranted; the greater the variability in values and preferences, or the greater the uncertainty, the more likely a weaker recommendation is warranted.

Table 1
Grading of evidence and recommendations (adapted from the GRADE system).