'Harmful drinkers' should be screened for early liver problems, says Nice
Women who polish off three and a half bottles of wine a week should be screened for early signs of liver disease, health officials have said.
And men who drink 22 pints a week should also be sent for scans to detect liver scarring, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) said.
Across England there are estimated to be 1.9 million "harmful drinkers" - men who drink more than 50 units a week and women who drink more than 35 units each week.
In a bid to identify early liver problems among these people, Nice has said that GPs should refer them for scans to detect liver cirrhosis, or scarring.
In its new draft quality standard, the health regulator said that d iagnosing cirrhosis will ensure patients receive the treatment and support needed to manage their condition.
The document, which is out for consultation until February, also says that those who have been identified as having cirrhosis should be sent for ultasounds twice a year to check for liver cancer.
Dr Andrew Fowell, consultant hepatologist at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust who helped draft the document, said: "Identifying people who are at risk of liver disease and offering them non-invasive testing to diagnose cirrhosis is key to ensuring they are given the treatment and support they need early enough to prevent serious complications.
"Ten years ago diagnosis of cirrhosis would often require a liver biopsy, but now with advances in non-invasive testing it is much easier for patients and health professionals to make a diagnosis."
Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive of Nice, said: "Many people with liver disease do not show symptoms until it is too late.
"If it is tackled at an early stage, simple lifestyle changes or treatments can be enough for the liver to recover.
"Early diagnosis is vital, as is action to both prevent and halt the damage that drinking too much alcohol can do."
Liver disease is the fifth largest cause of death in England and Wales.