Study Shows Alcohol-Related Liver Disease Increasing Among Millennials

A study published in the British Medical Journal found those ages 25 to 34 experienced the biggest increase in deaths tied to cirrhosis

"It's alarming", said study co-author Dr. Elliot Tapper, a liver specialist and a professor at the University of MI in Ann Arbor.

It's similar to overdose deaths from the opioid epidemic.

"What's happening with young people is dismaying to say the least", says Tapper.

But hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer, and only one in five people who are at risk actually get screened, even though that screening can save lives. The most common causes are drinking too much alcohol over many years, being infected with hepatitis C, or having a build-up of excess fat in the liver (known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease).

"From 1999 to 2016 in the USA, annual deaths from cirrhosis increased by 65 percent, to 34,174, while annual deaths from hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) doubled to 11,073", they wrote in their report, published in the British Medical Journal. "For reasons that are not entirely understood, people born from 1945 to 1965 are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than other age groups". "We're seeing younger and younger patients with alcoholic liver disease".

However, as cirrhosis takes many years to progress, the liver will be able to liver itself if it gets diagnosed early, said Tapper, and losing out weight can help reverse the process of fatty liver disease.

Dr. Raymond Chung is director of the Hepatology and Liver Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston.

"These data underscore gaps in care and opportunities for prevention" they conclude.

He said he had been treating more and more young people for cirrhosis and chose to conduct the study to see whether the trend held true nationwide.

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The problem, Tapper said, is that "we do not yet have a highly effective treatment for alcohol addiction".

Tapper and his team examined death certificates for almost 600,000 USA adults.

The report's findings include a decline in cirrhosis-related deaths among a number of subgroups within the population between 1999 and 2008 followed by a reversal of this process among almost all groups between 2009 and 2016. Deaths from liver cancer doubled (from more than 5,100 to almost 11,100) during the same time period.

According to the CDC report, the death rate of liver cancer for men was 2 to 2.5 times higher than it was for women. Adults older than 75 have the most liver cancer deaths, and the death rate in that demographic increased from 29.8 to 40.2 per 100,000 people between 2000 and 2016. Deaths from liver cancer among those under 55, meanwhile, decreased, but rose among people over 55, Tapper said.

By ethnicity, white Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic Americans experienced the greatest increase in deaths from cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is a risk factor for liver cancer, it should be noted, although scientists are still unable to determine exactly why.

It is hitting many places especially hard, namely Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas and New Mexico, where cirrhosis deaths were highest.

Dr. Tapper's study adds that only one state, Maryland, had a decrease in cirrhosis deaths.

The BMJ report was consistent with data issued earlier in the week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After taking account of several factors that could have influenced the results, the researchers found that deaths due to cirrhosis increased by 65% (from 20,661 in 1999 to 34,174 in 2016) and deaths due to liver cancer doubled (from 5,112 in 1999 to 11,073 in 2016).

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