Sunderland youth liver disease cases up 400%

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THE number of under 30-year-olds who have been admitted to hospital with booze-related liver disease has rocketed 400 per cent, figures out today reveal.

The shocking statistics, from the North East alcohol campaigners Balance show that 115 people were admitted last year – compared to just 23 between 2002 and 2003.

Hospital admissions across both genders, and for all age ranges have continued to rise, and have almost doubled over the last 10 years, from 2,088 in 2002 to 2003, to 4,146 between 2011 and 2012.

Dr James Crosbie, consultant gastroenterologist at City Hospitals Sunderland, said: “It is extremely worrying that we are seeing an increasing number of younger people diagnosed with alcohol-related liver disease.

“Although these figures may seem relatively small, the fact that 115 young people in our region were admitted to hospitals with alcohol-related liver disease in the past year is terrifying.

“Only a few years ago this disease was extremely rare in people under 30 but unless our drinking habits change, the problem is only set to worsen.

“We need to ensure that people are aware of the dangers. The earlier the age at which people drink, and the more they drink, the greater the chance of developing terminal liver disease in adult life.

“Unfortunately, in many cases, by the time people are presenting these symptoms to a specialist, the damage has already been done. And it is 
irreversible.

“Unless we do something soon, liver specialists across the region are going to be dealing with more and more young people whose lives have been ruined by alcohol.”

Alcohol-related liver disease does not usually cause any symptoms until the liver has been extensively damaged but starts with fat deposits leading to inflammation (steatohepatitis), fibrosis (scar tissue) and ultimately liver failure from cirrhosis.

Balance director Colin Shevills said: “These figures demonstrate that we have a real problem and alcohol continues to have a devastating impact on our health.

“People are drinking too much from an early age, driven by alcohol which is too affordable, too available and too heavily promoted.

“We will continue to support the Government and minimum unit price as an evidenced-based approach to reduce alcohol harm.

“It is a targeted measure which increases the price of the most harmful alcohol such as strong white cider, and protects younger and heavier drinkers who are more likely to drink cheap alcohol. It will have no effect on the price of a pint in a community pub.

“Minimum price is proven, it’s needed and it’s wanted.”

Sunderland mum Clare McCallum, 34, was diagnosed with scarring of the liver four years ago due to her drinking.

“There is a bit of a stigma around admitting to drinking too much, but the number of people that go out on weekends and binge, and think it’s not doing them any harm is scary,” she said.

“People think they have a high tolerance level, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes you don’t see any symptoms until it’s too late.”

Clare began drinking around eight years ago following an abusive relationship.

She said: “It started with just casual drinking, getting into the habit of opening a bottle of wine and having a few glasses on an evening. After a while, it started to creep up and I was drinking a two- litre bottle of Lambrini each night.

“I went from being a casual drinker to relying on alcohol, and at one point I was drinking six to eight litres of Lambrini a day or a two- litre bottle of vodka.

“It wasn’t until I went to the doctor’s with what I thought was an unrelated health problem that it hit home.

“I started to notice that I had a swollen stomach, despite not eating very much, and started to get swelling in my legs, and it was painful when I walked.

“After several tests, the doctor told me that I had a swollen spleen and early scarring which could lead to cirrhosis of the liver.

“I nearly died when he told me. I couldn’t believe that it could happen to me. I tried to give up but found it extremely difficult.

“I tried detox several times and went to residential rehab, but after a few months I gradually started drinking again.

“After another visit to the doctor’s, I was told that I needed to stop drinking or I was going to seriously damage my health.

“I decided I was going to give up for good and although it was difficult, I’ve never looked back.

“I’m now training to be a peer mentor for an alcohol and drugs service.

“If I could give any advice, it would be that I honestly didn’t think it would happen to me – and I think a lot of people think like that.”