Monday, October 27, 2008

Third of routine drinkers get potentially fatal liver damage

One third of routine drinkers sustain enough liver damage to put themselves at risk of an early death, researchers have found.

A study at University College London found an unexpectedly high level of liver abnormalities among "normal working people" who consume more alcohol than average but would not regard themselves as alcoholics.

Professor Rajiv Jalan, head of the liver failure group at University College London hospitals and one of the authors of the study, said: "These are people working in offices who we routinely encounter.

"They are representative of working people in our society and they are at risk."

The study looked at results from more than 1,000 men and women, mostly aged 36 to 55, who used home testing kits to measure liver damage.

The kits measure specific enzymes in the blood, high levels of which indicate liver abnormalities.

More than 70 per cent of those involved in the study said they regularly drank more than the government's recommended limit of 14 units of alcohol a week for women and 21 units for men, and 41 per cent of them said they drank every day.

The results showed at least 30 per cent of the people tested had liver abnormalities.

The worrying findings will be published this week in the medical journal Hepatology and come as the government considers the introduction of national screening to counter rising levels of liver disease.

Up to two million people in Britain have chronic liver disease and many are unaware of their illness.

Deaths from the disease have increased by eight times in men aged 35 to 44 and by seven times in women over the past 30 years.

Doctors warn that symptoms of liver disease are not felt until too late and by that time patients have up to a 50 per cent chance of dying early.

A Medical Research Council study found that intelligent people can be at greater risk of alcohol problems as they seek to cope with stressful jobs.

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