A new study shows more Americans, especially young people, are dying from liver disease. And it appears some of them are literally drinking themselves to death.
What was the reason?
Study researchers said they suspect the economic downturn in 2008 led many people to turn to alcohol for comfort.
"These are deaths of despair," lead researcher Dr. Elliot Tapper, an assistant professor of gastroenterology at the University of Michigan, said in a report by CBS News.
It’s similar to people turning to opioids to try to relieve their emotional pain, Tapper said, although he noted that the study was observational and not designed to prove cause and effect.
In any event, deaths in the United States due to cirrhosis rose 65 percent and deaths from liver cancer doubled from 1999 to 2016. The study involved the review of death certificate data for nearly 600,000 U.S. adults, according to reports.
During that time, cirrhosis-related deaths increased for every ethnic group and for both men and women, according to the study, which was published in the British Medical Journal.
The greatest increase in deaths from cirrhosis occurred among people between the ages of 25 to 34 from 2009 to 2016, according to Tapper.
An increase in binge-drinking among young people was blamed for the the increase in cirrhosis-related mortality, according to Tapper. And the deaths were preventable.
Tapper suggested measures such as raising the price of alcohol and using blood testing to diagnose cirrhosis could help reverse the trend. He said the study came about partly because he was treating an increasing number of young people for cirrhosis and wanted to find out if the trend was happening nationwide.
“We were struck by how the current concept of who develops cirrhosis didn’t quite match what we were seeing,” he said in a report by WPMT-TV. “It was really striking to us to have people that were younger than us in our clinic dying from cirrhosis.”
What causes Cirrhosis?
Cirrhosis occurs when toxins such as alcohol or excess calories overload the liver and cause inflammation and later, scarring of the liver.
Cirrhosis can cause a number of complications, including the buildup of fluid in the stomach and the formation of varicose veins. It can also cause the spread of toxins to the brain, which can cause what is known as a “liver coma,” according to reports. It also can increase the risk for liver cancer, one of the leading causes of cancer deaths.