Research Article

Carbohydrate deficient transferrin: a marker for alcohol abuse.

BMJ 1989; 299 doi: (Published 12 August 1989) Cite this as: BMJ 1989;299:427
  1. A. Kapur,
  2. G. Wild,
  3. A. Milford-Ward,
  4. D. R. Triger
  1. Department of Medicine and Protein Reference Unit, Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield.


    OBJECTIVE--To assess the value of serum carbohydrate deficient transferrin as detected by isoelectric focusing on agarose as an indicator of alcohol abuse. DESIGN--Coded analysis of serum samples taken from patients with carefully defined alcohol intake both with and without liver disease. Comparison of carbohydrate deficient transferrin with standard laboratory tests for alcohol abuse. SETTING--A teaching hospital unit with an interest in general medicine and liver disease. PATIENTS--22 "Self confessed" alcoholics admitting to a daily alcohol intake of at least 80 g for a minimum of three weeks; 15 of the 22 self confessed alcoholics admitted to hospital for alcohol withdrawal; 68 patients with alcoholic liver disease confirmed by biopsy attending outpatient clinics and claiming to be drinking less than 50 g alcohol daily; 47 patients with non-alcoholic liver disorders confirmed by biopsy; and 38 patients with disorders other than of the liver and no evidence of excessive alcohol consumption. INTERVENTION--Serial studies performed on the 15 patients undergoing alcohol withdrawal in hospital. MAIN OUTCOME measure--Determination of relative value of techniques for detecting alcohol abuse. RESULTS--Carbohydrate deficient transferrin was detected in 19 of the 22 (86%) self confessed alcohol abusers, none of the 47 patients with non-alcoholic liver disease, and one of the 38 (3%) controls. Withdrawal of alcohol led to the disappearance of carbohydrate deficient transferrin at a variable rate, though in some subjects it remained detectable for up to 15 days. Carbohydrate deficient transferrin was considerably superior to the currently available conventional markers for alcohol abuse. CONCLUSION--As the technique is fairly simple, sensitive, and inexpensive we suggest that it may be valuable in detecting alcohol abuse.