Liver cirrhosis deaths double in last 15 years


LEVELS OF mortality from cirrhosis of the liver have doubled in the last 15 years as a “direct result of alcohol consumption”, a leading consultant on gastroenterology has said.

Prof Frank Murray, chairman of the alcohol policy group at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, also said women were far less accurate than men in estimating how many units of alcohol they consumed, because so many women drank wine.

He said while most men correctly estimated there were two units of alcohol in a pint of beer and so “know where they stand”, most people thought there were about six units in a bottle of wine.

“In fact, in a 750 ml bottle of wine at 13 per cent [alcohol], there are 10 units. You should be getting 10 glasses from a bottle of wine if there is to be one unit per glass.”

He was addressing a conference calling for a minimum price per gram of alcohol. The event was hosted by Alcohol Action Ireland and backed by 27 charities and medical and community organisations. He said the policy group had been established recently as he and colleagues were “distressed and upset at the damage alcohol is doing to people and families and the huge burden of alcohol to our health and our economy”.

Two things were necessary to address this: increase the price of alcohol and reduce its availability.

The conference also heard from Alex White, Minister of State for Health with responsibility for the Substance Misuse Strategy, who said the strategy would be brought to Cabinet “within weeks . . . absolutely before Christmas”.

Mr White’s predecessor as minister of state, Róisín Shortall, had championed radical measures to address alcohol abuse, including minimum pricing, an end to alcohol sponsorship of sports and other cultural events by 2016 and tough regulations on advertising, which she wanted in the strategy.

Mr White said the issues were “complex” and he was “working hard on this”. He added he had not met the drinks industry and did not expect to.

Prof Murray, a consultant gastroenterologist at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, said the number of people dying as a result of cirrhosis of the liver had increased from 3.6 per 100,000 people in 1996 to 7.2 per in 2010. “That is as a direct result of alcohol consumption. Mortality due to liver disease has doubled, just as there has been a significant increase in alcohol consumption here,” he said.

He said once a person was hospitalised for liver damage their prognosis was to live for little more than a year to 18 months more. “They are getting younger and the gender imbalance between men and women is disappearing.”