Americans Dying of Liver Disease, Doctors Blaming Alcohol Drinking

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The Great Recession continues to take a grim toll: Since 2009, a growing number of Americans have died from liver disease and liver cancer.

Young adults suffered the greatest increase in deaths over recent years due to cirrhosis, according to a new study that blames alcohol consumption for the surge in fatalities.

Tapper suspects that economics have a lot to do with increased alcohol consumption in younger people.

"These are deaths of despair", Tapper, an assistant professor of gastroenterology at the University of MI, told HealthDay.

"Dying from cirrhosis, you never wish this on anybody", Tapper said.

This is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, and the researchers outline some study limitations. This data is particularly shocking since medical treatment for leading causes of cirrhosis, a condition where the liver does not function properly due to damage, such as hepatitis C, have been developed.

Cirrhosis can be caused by a virus like hepatitis C or fatty liver disease, and as liver specialists have made strides in fighting hepatitis C, "We thought we would see improvements, but these data make it clear: even after hepatitis C, we will still have our work cut out for us", said liver specialist Dr. Elliot B. Tapper.

The findings point to a skyrocketing increase in cirrhosis and liver cancer deaths over the last decade.

The conditions affecting older people are most likely due to the obesity epidemic, he suggested. But today we are seeing it people in their 20s and 30s with alcohol-related liver failure.

Offering his perspective on the findings, Raymond T. Chung, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, told MedPage Today that the steady rise in liver disease mortality may partly be due to complications of the hepatitis C epidemic and to the high frequency of fatty liver disease in the US population.

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

Overall, deaths due to liver cancer more than doubled, increasing from 5,112 to 11,073 annually.

"We had long, tearful conversations", Tapper says, "but he continued to struggle with alcohol addiction".

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

Men had twice as many cirrhosis related deaths and four times as many liver cancer related deaths than women.

From 2009 to 2016, people aged 25 to 34 had the highest annual increase in cirrhosis deaths - almost 11 percent. Adults with liver cancer may experience a decrease in appetite, unexplained weight loss, nausea, and jaundice.

Certain ethnic groups, like whites and Native Americans, also saw large increases in liver-related deaths in all age groups, while Asian-Americans saw decreases. As a result, the growth in cirrhosis has largely come from alcoholic liver disease and non-alcoholic liver disease. For example, deaths in Kentucky rose almost seven percent, six percent in New Mexico and almost six percent in Arkansas.

The report was published online July 18 in the BMJ.

The new study looked at publicly available data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Vital Statistics Cooperative from the years 1999 to 2016. Between 2000 and 2016, death rates for liver cancer increased 43 percent.

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