Liver disease admissions at Beaumont Hospital have increased by 30% since the first lockdown as people began drinking more at home.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning Professor John Ryan, a consultant at the Dublin hospital’s hepatology unit said the figures were replicated at other Irish hospitals and in studies carried out in the US.
Professor Ryan said the study compared admissions for liver disease in the first five months of 2021 to the same period last year and found the 30% increase.
He said the time period between the first lockdown and the start of this year was enough to see problem drinking manifest as liver disease.
“I have so many patients that have said it to me,” he said. “Everyone knew about the apprehension at the start of lockdown and lots of people took to drinking maybe a glass of wine a day. That then turns into half a bottle or maybe a bottle a day and very quickly you are kind of medicating your anxiety.
“People lost people and there were so many reasons to drink perhaps. We saw the bottle banks overflowing.
“Drinking at home is also cheaper. You can get six cans of 6% cider - which is 18 units - for €6 and that is someone’s consumption maybe for a day. After a week you are already drinking over 100 units and actually spending less than €50.
“Also, there are no opening or closing hours at home, so it is a perfect storm and that is what we are seeing now.”
He said his patients range in age from those in their 20s to those in their 80s.
He said drinking anything above the recommended guidelines of 17 units for a man and 11 units for a woman increases the risk of a range of ailments – but there are higher consumption levels that are far more likely to cause long-term damage.
“Typically, a woman drinking over 35 units or a man drinking over 50 units a week,” he said. “That would be, if you think about it, about five bottles of wine a week for a man.
“That is a lot. That is way more than you should be drinking. You should be drinking no more than a bottle and a half in a week and for a woman, it is much less. Women are much more susceptible.
“So, there is no cut-off point but if you are getting into that range you would want to come and see me or be screened for liver problems.”
He said the main issue with liver disease is that it is a silent killer – and many patients do not realise anything is wrong until it is very advanced.
“You wouldn’t necessarily know that you have any liver problems,” he said. “Even if you have cirrhosis where your liver is irreversibly damaged, you may not even know that.
“Even your GP doing your blood tests every year wouldn’t know it either because often they are normal until you fall off your perch or the edge.
“Where you become yellow in the eyes or jaundiced. Where you have fluid in the belly or internal haemorrhaging. There are quite extreme complications and that is how patients with liver problems present and the associated mortality is very high.
“That is the problem. People will drink away not really know what is going on internally until it is quite advanced.”
He said patients that catch the disease before it is too late can live long and healthy lives.
“If you are picked up at the right time, even if you have certain elements of irreversibility of liver damage, you can be maintained long term,” he said.
“You don’t need a liver transplant. You can be looked after as long as the complications are screened for and dealt with before they do happen and you can have an otherwise healthy existence away from alcohol.
“So, it is all to play for really, if it is picked up at the right time.”
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