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Is Alcohol-Related Liver Disease Rising?
According to a study conducted by the British Medical Journal, the number of deaths caused by liver diseases in the United States has risen sharply in the past two decades. Researchers found that cirrhosis-related deaths went up 65 percent between 1999 and 2016; the same period saw the number of deaths resulting from liver cancer double. Significantly, the report attributes this sharp rise in deaths due to liver disease to alcohol-induced conditions.
Concerning Trends For Liver Damage
Elliot Tapper, a liver specialist from the University of Michigan and the lead author of the study, said that his team’s results suggest something unsettling: that an entirely new generation of young Americans are being plagued “by alcohol misuse and its complications.” Indeed, the study’s researchers pointed out that the demographic group that saw the largest increase of cirrhosis-related deaths (at about 10.5 percent each year) were 25- to 34-year-olds.
The study also revealed that although alcohol-related liver disease deaths were declining among many groups between 1999 and 2008, a sharp rise in the death rate across demographic groups occurred in 2009. Researchers think that the economic crisis in 2008 and the related jump in unemployment may have contributed to this increase in alcohol-related deaths, as related studies have found that job loss is linked to greater alcohol intake (for men).
Overall, men were found to die from cirrhosis twice as often as women, with liver cancer in men leading to death four times as often. Whites, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans saw an increase in cirrhosis-related deaths over the study period, as did residents of Arkansas, Kentucky and New Mexico.
Understanding the Risk Factors for Alcohol-Related Liver Disease
So, what puts someone at risk of developing alcohol-related liver disease? The threshold may be lower than you think. Tapper stated that life-threatening cirrhosis can develop if a person drinks several alcoholic drinks per night or engages in binge drinking (defined as over four to five drinks in a session) several nights a week. The limits may be lower for the average woman, as women tend to have lower alcohol tolerances and their livers are usually more sensitive to alcohol-related damage.
The Steps You Can Take to Avoid Life-Threatening Liver Conditions
Luckily, there is a way to repair alcohol-related liver disease, even if it isn’t always easy: stop drinking. Tapper notes that even if you already have damage to your liver from alcohol-related disease, “there’s an excellent chance your liver will repair itself…many other organs have the ability to regenerate to some degree, but none have the same capacity as the liver.” He pointed out that he has personally seen patients with alcohol-related liver disease go “from the sickest of the sick to living well, working and enjoying life” just by cutting out alcohol.
However, heavy drinkers should be careful, as liver disease can develop silently and without symptoms. Cirrhosis symptoms can arise “all of a sudden,” with initial symptoms including a swollen abdomen and jaundice. The safest bet for heavy drinkers is to cut out their alcohol consumption before symptoms arise.
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