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Friday, 9 August, 2002, 09:53 GMT 10:53 UK
Liver deaths rise 'linked to alcohol'
Drink
Doctors want the dangers of alcohol made clear
A "staggering" rise in deaths from liver disease is largely the result of alcohol abuse, scientists believe.

They think heavy drinking and poor diets could explain a 100% increase in the number of deaths.

The increase was even more remarkable among Asian men - who were four times as likely to die as a result of liver disease.

Dr Neil Fisher, whose research is published in the British Medical Journal said: "The situation is worrying and shows no sign of abating."

His team have called for a greater emphasis to be put on the health risks posed by alcohol.

National trend

Dr Fisher's team discovered that deaths from liver disease in the West Midlands went up from 6 per 100,000 in 1993 to 13 per 100,000 in 2000.


I think what may be happening is that a few susceptible individuals are going at it hard

Dr Neil Fisher
The number of cases of fatal liver disease caused by alcohol rose from 2.8 cases per 100,000 to eight cases by 100,000 over the same period.

The rate of increase was the same among white men, white women and Asian women, but Asian men were four times as likely to die.

Dr Fisher's team believe the findings are likely to reflect a national trend.

They also think that part of the increase is down to heavy drinking by some people, as the amount of alcohol consumed by Britons as a whole did not rise.

'Protected'

Dr Fisher said: "I think what may be happening is that a few susceptible individuals are going at it hard, perhaps drinking at dangerous levels," he said.

"Those minority of individuals are being concealed by overall figures that aren't showing much change in alcohol consumption for the nation as a whole.

"There are other possible factors. Genetic susceptibility may play some part. That is perhaps among the Asians in particular, who are genetically predisposed to liver disease."

Dr Fisher said diet was also likely to play a part, as people eating plenty of vitamins and minerals were "probably protected to some degree from one of the effects of alcohol abuse".

Transplants

Figures published last month said drugs were also to blame for a nationwide rise in alcoholic liver disease in England.

Doctors said the legacy of intravenous drug use in the 1970s and 1980s was catching up with people.

One of the risks of sharing needles is catching the hepatitis C virus, which can persist in the body for years and contribute to long-term liver damage.

In hepatitis C patients, alcohol consumption has been shown to actually accelerate the rate at which liver damage accumulates.

Experts have already predicted an explosion in the numbers of people on transplant waiting lists over the next decade as the effects of intravenous drug use 20 or even 30 years ago begins to be felt.

But figures published released last week showed the number of organs available for transplants is falling while the numbers waiting continue to rise.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Dr Evan Harris urged the government to improve public awareness of the risks of alcohol abuse.

He added: "Money that would be spent on a major campaign to reduce alcohol misuse would be nothing compared to potential subsequent savings to the NHS."

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Karen Allen
"In seven years there has been a three fold increase in deaths caused by liver disease"
See also:

09 Aug 02 | Health
13 Dec 01 | Health
30 Mar 00 | G-I
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