Deaths due to cirrhosis, or liver disease, as a result of alcohol consumption are on the increase across the United States, according to a new study.
The disturbing discovery about cirrhosis-related deaths was conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Cirrhosis can be caused by several different health conditions, including hepatitis C and fatty liver disease. However, the researchers observed that in the United States, an increasing number of people acquire it due to excessive alcohol consumption.
Dr. Elliot Tapper, a specialist in liver health from Michigan Medicine, of the University of Michigan and his collaborator Dr. Neehar Parikh have noticed that, in 1999–2016, the number of deaths caused by cirrhosis has been on the upsurge in 49 out of 50 states. Only Maryland showed a decrease in liver disease-related deaths.
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“Each alcohol-related death means decades of lost life, broken families, and lost economic productivity. In addition, medical care of those dying from cirrhosis costs billions of dollars,” explains Dr. Tapper.
The researchers’ findings are reported in the BMJ.
Young Adults are Mostly at Risk
The past few years have witnessed improvements when it comes to treating hepatitis C, the liver disease that has affected large numbers of “Baby Boomers” — people born in 1945–1965 — who were exposed to infection via improperly sanitized needles, due to a poor understanding of the dangers involved.
Once methods of dealing with the widespread cases of hepatitis C improved, and people who had been diagnosed experienced better care, liver specialists expected to see fewer deaths related to liver disease.
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Shockingly, however, they found the opposite: cirrhosis deaths have increased by 65 percent, and alcohol use is a prominent cause of late-stage liver disease. The most affected populations are adults aged 25–34, and white people and those who are of American Indian and Hispanic descent are the most exposed.
The highest average increase in cirrhosis-related deaths every year was observed among young adults, at about 10.5 percent rise each year.
“We thought we would see improvements when it comes to the number of deaths due to liver disease, but these data make it clear: even after hepatitis C, we will still have our work cut out for us,” Dr. Tapper explains.
But why exactly has alcohol use become such a prominent “pastime” among younger generations?
The researchers believe alcohol use became a prominent way of relaxing among the younger generation because of the negative effects of the Great Recession, which took place roughly in 2007–2009.
The researchers were led to conclude this due to the fact that the rise in cirrhosis-related deaths began to increase in 2009.
According to Dr. Tapper: “We suspect that there is a connection between increased alcohol use and unemployment associated with the global financial crisis. But more research is needed.”
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During the 7-year period analyzed in this study, 460,760 cirrhosis-related deaths occurred. Of these, approximately one third were due to a type of liver cancer — called “hepatocellular carcinoma” — that stems from cirrhosis.
In 2016, the number of deaths caused by liver cancer doubled, reaching 11,073 — compared with 1999’s figures.
“The speedy rise in liver deaths emphasizes gaps in care and opportunities for prevention,” warns Dr. Parikh.
According to the data collected using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research, the states where most cirrhosis deaths have been recorded are Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, and New Mexico.
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The researchers stressed that liver disease due to alcohol consumption is totally preventable and urge states to implement strategic measures, such as the implementation of alcohol taxes, and preventing adverts promoting alcoholic drinks.