Alcohol-related severe liver damage spikes during COVID-19 pandemic

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Amidst the pandemic, there’s been a significant increase in alcohol sales, and unfortunately, this has led to dire consequences.

Hospital admissions for alcohol-related hepatitis, a serious liver inflammation condition, have seen a dramatic upsurge, according to a recent study examining national hospitalization data.

While the number of alcohol-related hepatitis cases has been rising from 2016 to 2020, 2020, the year the COVID-19 pandemic began in the US, saw an alarming 12.4% increase from 2019.

In younger patients, ages 18 to 44, hospital admissions rose almost 20%, and in-hospital deaths increased by 24.6% compared to 2019.

Dr. Kris Kowdley, a professor at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, highlighted that while the issue had been noted in regional studies, this new data reveals a nationwide problem.

“Severe liver disease seems to be rising over time, but it appears to have increased even more dramatically during the pandemic,” said Kowdley.

“We also found that younger patients and women had a higher increase in in-hospital mortality compared to their counterparts.”

A Deadly Illness

Alcohol-related hepatitis typically affects about one-third of heavy, regular drinkers who consume over four alcoholic drinks daily.

Symptoms include abdominal pain, loss of appetite, vomiting, and jaundice. The disease can result in permanent liver damage, known as cirrhosis, and can be fatal.

The study, which analyzed data from the National Inpatient Sample covering hospitalizations in 37 states, found around 823,000 patients were hospitalized with alcohol-related hepatitis from 2016 to 2020.

The rapid increase in cases and their severity raises concerns for researchers.

Demographic Changes and the Need for Action

In 2016, about 146,000 patients were admitted with alcohol-related hepatitis. By 2019, this figure had risen to nearly 169,000 and further increased to over 190,000 in 2020.

Though the condition is more prevalent in men, women saw a more substantial increase of 14.6% between 2019-2020, compared to men’s increase of 12.2%.

Income also influenced the rise in cases. From 2016 to 2019, the two highest income groups saw the largest increase in alcohol-related hepatitis.

However, by 2020, the lowest income group showed the most significant increase.

Kowdley attributes the spike in alcohol consumption to factors such as social isolation and stress associated with the pandemic.

He calls for a comprehensive approach to treating people suffering from alcohol use disorders, including mental health and behavioral therapy, nutritional counseling, and reducing alcohol cravings.

Importantly, Kowdley also emphasizes the need to reduce the stigma associated with alcohol-related liver disease.

“We need to recognize and treat alcohol-related hepatitis as a disease like any other disease, and not stigmatize the patient suffering with this illness,” he said.

“We must also be cognizant both as healthcare providers and patients that alcohol-related hepatitis can be a life-threatening disorder.”

If you care about COVID, please read studies about Vitamin D deficiency linked to severe COVID-19, and how diets could help manage post-COVID syndrome.

For more information about COVID, please see recent studies about new evidence on rare blood clots after COVID-19 vaccination, and results showing zinc could help reduce COVID-19 infection risk.

The study was published in The American Journal of the Medical Sciences.

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