Severe alcohol-related liver disease on the rise, study finds

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By Linda Carroll

Severe alcohol-related liver disease is on the rise, a new study suggests. Experts say the increase may be due to heavy binge drinking, especially in young adults.

Researchers found that while there has been little change in the rate of people developing alcoholic fatty liver disease, there appears to be an increase in those who are at greater risk of cirrhosis, liver cancer and death, according to the study published in JAMA.

“I think what triggered me to do this study was seeing a lot of patients with advanced alcoholic fatty liver disease,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Robert Wong, an assistant clinical professor of medicine and director of research and education at the Alameda Health System-Highland Hospital.

“The most concerning finding was that the number of patients with more advanced disease, which increases the risk of dying, increased significantly over the time period we studied,” Wong said.

The new report adds to the mounting evidence that more and more Americans are developing severe liver disease. A study published last summer found that increasing numbers of young people were dying from alcohol related liver failure. That study, published in the BMJ, linked heavy alcohol consumption in young people to a pronounced increase in deaths.

Alcoholic liver disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, Wong noted, adding that nearly 250,000 deaths were attributed to the disease in 2010.

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