A recent study shows a 65 percent increase in deaths form cirrhosis of the liver since 1999. While that is a worrisome number, there is a second statistic within that study that is even more troubling: The biggest increase in deaths from cirrhosis is among people aged 25 to 34 – and it’s rising by 10 percent a year among this age group.
There’s some speculation that an increase in binge-drinking culture among young people could be the cause of the rise in cirrhosis-related deaths, as well as stress associated with the stock market crash in 2008 and years of low employment opportunities.
The Damage Excessive Alcohol Use Causes
It doesn’t take years and years of heavy drinking to dramatically change your liver, thereby negatively affecting your health for the rest of your life. Just a few years of heavy drinking can affect you forever. Take alcoholic liver disease, for example. Alcoholic liver disease is caused by overconsuming alcohol, which damages the liver and leads to fatty buildup, swelling, and scarring. Because the liver has so many vital functions in the body – namely removing toxins – it needs to remain healthy to run efficiently. This disease is the main cause of chronic liver disease in the United States and the third most common reason liver transplants are performed.
It’s important to look at your habits first. It’s recommended that adult men do not exceed two alcoholic drinks per day and adult women do not exceed one alcoholic drink per day. If you’re drinking more than that, you’re already putting yourself at risk. Early signs of alcoholic liver disease are pain in the abdomen, diarrhea, decreased appetite, nausea and vomiting, and a general feeling of being unwell. Unfortunately, these symptoms are all pretty easy to dismiss, so many people don’t know they’re suffering from the disease until the symptoms get more severe. If the disease has progressed, people can experience itchy skin, edema, jaundice, bleeding and bruising more easily, general weakness, fever and shivering, and more sensitive reactions to alcohol and drugs. If you’ve noticed any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor immediately.
The only way to stop alcoholic liver disease is to abstain from alcohol entirely. Medications can be prescribed to help with this. Quitting tobacco use and losing weight might also be recommended.
Dr. Sahil Mittal is a board-certified gastroenterologist at Kelsey-Seybold’s Katy Clinic, Pasadena Clinic, and Berthelsen Main Campus. His numerous research efforts have dealt primarily with liver cancer, viral hepatitis, and fatty liver. Besides liver disease, his clinical interests are functional bowel disorders and gastrointestinal cancer screening.