Queen Alexandra Hospital treating more young patients than ever with liver disease

EXPERT Richard Aspinall
EXPERT Richard Aspinall
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A LIVER expert says more younger people are drinking themselves to death.

Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham, deals with two cases of advanced liver disease every day, according to Dr Richard Aspinall.

And those being diagnosed are getting younger – with people in their 20s and 30s falling ill.

Once advanced liver damage has occurred, it often leads to death, with a transplant one of the only options.

But with just 650 transplants carried out in the UK every year – with about 30 in our region – the chances of a donor are slim.

Dr Aspinall, a consultant hepatologist at QA, said: ‘There is no question – the rate of liver disease is going up. At QA we have more and more people coming in with advanced liver disease and they tend to be more sick, and younger. Liver disease can be a horrible disease. Often you may not get symptoms early on because your liver will struggle on. But once you get to the later stages it may be irreversible, although there are a few exceptions.

‘Although the scarring of the liver tends not to reverse, some patients can still see some improvement if they give up drinking, even at the late stage.’

Portsmouth’s mortality rate of chronic liver disease is the highest in the region.

Most recent figures show that in 2008, the city’s mortality rate was 13 per 100,000 people – compared to eight per 100,000 for the south-east.

QA is now seeing more than 700 cases of serious liver disease a year, compared to 120 in 2006 and 60 in 2003.

People with advanced liver disease will have a 50 per cent chance of dying within a year or two.

The main cause is alcohol – which is a major problem in Portsmouth, with studies showing about 40,000 people in the city drink too much.

The city also has the highest rate of alcohol-related hospital admissions in the south with 4,000 people admitted to QA because of alcohol every year.

Symptoms of liver disease can include nausea, weight loss, loss of appetite and jaundice. But experts say you do not even have to drink every day or binge drink to develop the disease.

Dr Aspinall said: ‘There’s some individual variation on how much drinking it will take for you to get liver disease. For some it can be drinking a lot and every day, for others they are shocked to hear they’ve got it because they didn’t think they drank any more than their friends and weren’t drinking every day.

‘So the best advice to avoid getting liver disease is to follow the guidelines on how many units you can drink, which is no more than two to three units a day for women and three to four units for men. You also need to have at least two to three alcohol-free days each week.’