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24 September 2014
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BBC research reveals marked generational shift in alcohol-related liver disease

Liver specialists are seeing a marked, generational shift in patients with severe, alcohol-related disease, according to BBC News research.


As well as seeing more and more 20 and 30-year-olds, the specialists are also seeing an overall increase in numbers, and they blame it on a growing acceptance of heavy drinking.


More than a hundred specialists from around the UK described their clinical experience of the impact of alcohol, and they warn that hospital wards are seeing a growing number of young people, particularly women.


Whereas most hospital consultants would have predominantly seen patients in their fifties or sixties, they now describe patients as young as their early twenties with alcohol related hepatitis and cirrhosis.


Of the 115 consultants who responded to the BBC questionnaire, 101 said there had been an increase in the number of patients they were seeing for alcohol-related disease.


The shift in the age profile of their patients is also very marked, with 77 saying they had treated a patient under the age of 25.


They tell the BBC their cases have included a 24-year-old woman with advanced cirrhosis who died; a 25-year-old with advanced alcoholic cirrhosis; a 19-year-old female with end stage liver disease; and a 21-year-old who died from acute alcohol poisoning.


Dr Jonathan Mitchell, a Consultant Hepatologist in Plymouth and one of the specialists who took part, says that many of his patients do not realise the permanent damage to their health caused by regular heavy drinking.


Until it reaches a critical stage most liver disease is virtually without symptoms.


He tells the BBC: "I've seen patients who've been admitted with pretty catastrophic bleeding from the stomach and oesophagus with no prior warning of a problem of their liver.


"Others may present with jaundice or swelling of the abdomen because there's a lot of fluid in the abdomen.


"All these three things are signs of quite advanced liver disease and can come out of the blue."


Laura is just 32 but will never be able to drink again. She began drinking heavily in her twenties after her marriage broke up, gradually reaching as much as two bottles of wine in an evening. She now bitterly regrets the years of heavy drinking.


"I never thought that at my age, I'd have suffered such long term damage," she tells the BBC.


"What worries me is that I know how easy it is to get into it, and how hard it is to stop."


The BBC's research comes as a new campaign is launched by doctors and charities to put pressure on the Government to make alcohol misuse a higher priority.


Twenty four organisations have joined together to form the Alcohol Health Alliance which wants to see higher taxation on alcohol and a restriction in advertising before the 9pm watershed on television.


While attention is often focused on the social disorder caused by binge drinking, many doctors say the serious health effects are not given enough attention.


Professor Ian Gilmore, President of the Royal College of Physicians, is one of the leading figures in the new campaign.


He tells the BBC: "If you look at the burden of damage to society, it's hugely greater for alcohol than for drugs, but the majority of money has always gone on drugs, partly because of the strong link to crime."









Category: News
Date: 13.11.2007
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