Liver disease deaths have risen sharply in recent years in the United States, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal. Cirrhosis deaths increased 65 percent from 1999 to 2016 and deaths from liver cancer doubled, according to the study. The increase in mortality rates is primarily due to alcohol-related illnesses, the report said.
Over the past decade, people aged 25 to 34 years had the highest increase in cirrhosis deaths – an average of 10.5 percent per year – of population researchers reported
The study suggests that a new generation Americans are "afflicted by alcohol abuse and its complications," said lead author Elliot Tapper, a liver specialist at the University of Michigan.
Tapper said people are at risk of life-threatening cirrhosis if they drink several drinks a night or spend several nights having booze ̵
The liver cleanses the blood when it exits the intestine. The more toxins, sugars and fats are used, the harder it has to be. If the liver is overloaded, it can cause blockages, which impair the liver function.
"Dying of cirrhosis of the liver, you never wish that," said Tapper.
When people with alcohol-related illness stop drinking, "there's an excellent chance your liver will repair itself," said Tapper. "Many other organs have the ability to regenerate to some degree, but none have the same capacity as the liver," he added. He said he routinely sees patients "walk, work and enjoy their lives from the sick of the sick to a good life."
The problem, Tapper says, is "We do not yet have a highly effective treatment for alcohol addiction"
The study looked at death rates in different demographic groups – divided by age, race, place of residence, and gender – based on death certificates and census data. The researchers found that deaths for certain population groups declined between 1999 and 2008 – but have risen sharply since 2009. They speculated that the 2008 economic crisis and the subsequent increase in unemployment could have been a factor. Studies have shown that losing a job is associated with increased alcohol use in men.
The new study found that men die of cirrhosis twice as often and die of liver cancer almost four times as often as women. The study also found White, Indians and Hispanic Americans experiencing increased death rates for cirrhosis, along with people in Kentucky, Arkansas and New Mexico. The only positive report from the study is the decreasing death rate in Asian Americans from both cirrhosis and liver cancer.
"Scar tissue is silent, develops silently and they (the patients) do not know it is a big surprise," said Jessica Mellinger, a clinical lecturer at the University of Michigan who was not involved in the study. "Suddenly, patients experience the symptoms," Mellinger says about patients with cirrhosis.
First symptoms of cirrhosis with yellowish skin, jaundice and a swollen abdomen are usually the first signs that something is wrong, Mellinger said. The fluid in the stomach can make it look and feel "as if you have several bowling balls in your stomach," said Tapper. As the disease progresses, the symptoms worsen, including degenerative brain injury, severe bleeding, kidney failure and increased frailty.
The BMJ report agreed with data released earlier this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a new report, the Agency's National Center for Health Statistics announced that the age-adjusted liver cancer death rates for 2000-2016 were steadily rising for both men and women. The agency said liver cancer had become the sixth leading cause of cancer deaths in 2016, the ninth-leading cause in 2000.
Liver cancer continues to increase as a total cancer death rate in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute
The CDC report showed the district had the highest mortality rate for liver cancer in the country among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, followed by Louisiana, Hawaii, Mississippi and New Mexico. The five states with the lowest death rates were Vermont, Maine, Montana, Utah and Nebraska.