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Specimen of the Week 370: Alcoholic Fatty Liver

By Subhadra Das, on 7 December 2018

Today’s specimen of the week comes from UCL Pathology Collections. The Collections are displayed at the UCL Pathology Museum at the Royal Free Campus of the UCL Medical School in Hampstead. The museum includes a medical teaching collection of nearly 3,000 specimens of human remains illustrating the history of disease. To open up these specialist medical displays to a wider audience, we’ve developed a trail of 10 specimens of well known diseases. As the museum only opens to the public for special events, we’re sharing the trail as part of the Specimen of the Week series.

All of the entries for the UCL Pathology Collections Top 10 Medical Trail have been written by Nazli Pulatmen, who worked with us for her MA Museum Studies placement in the summer of 2018.

This extreme case of alcoholic fatty liver was taken from a 30-year-old patient who died from liver failure. According to the patient’s clinical history, he consumed on average 1 to 2 bottles of vodka each day for 15 years.

A section of liver showing fatty liver disease

The liver of a 30-year-old who died from liver failure

Such an extremely high amount of alcohol consumed regularly from a very young age, ultimately caused fatal damage to the patient’s liver. At 3670g, this liver weighs more than twice that of an average healthy male which should be approximately 1500g. In the UK, alcohol misuse continues to the biggest cause of death, ill-health and disability in people aged between 15-49 – and although levels of consumption have dropped steadily alcohol abuse and addiction continue to be a problem. Whilst increasing the risk of liver disease and failure – alcohol’s indirect risks like increasing the likelihood of accidents and the perpetration of acts of violence are just as big a problem in the UK today. Exacerbating this issue, alcohol addiction often isn’t treated as seriously as addiction to illegal substances, so much so that only 1 in 5 people in the UK with an alcohol dependence are currently in treatment to help beat their addiction. Like all addictions, alcohol dependence is often the result of socio-economic circumstances and untreated underlying mental health problems, previous traumas or a combination of these factors. In the case of this specimen, there is not enough clinical documentation for us to fully gage why the patient began drinking such large amounts at such a young age, or the causes of the addiction that ultimately lead to his demise at just 30 years old.


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