Alcoholic liver disease in young people
The image of the middle-aged alcoholic suffering physiological and social consequences of alcoholic liver disease (ALD) is being fast replaced by a growing statistic of a much younger generation. Examples of this trend include the death of a 24-year old female with advanced liver cirrhosis and the death of a 21-year old from acute alcohol poisoning to name but a few. Many campaigners have argued that limited legal restrictions and a lack of tough penalties for under-age and binge drinking have contributed to this depressing snapshot of youth culture in Britain today.
The UK has one of the highest rates of under-age drinking in the industrialised world. In 2006, there was an increase in more than 40% of young people aged between 25-29 years dying from liver disease than in the previous year. Statistics for 2007 reveal that 4 men and 1 woman in the 20-24 age group and 24 men and 16 women aged between 25-29 dying of ALD. There were 38,300 hospital admissions in 2007/8 with a primary diagnosis of ALD, and the number of alcohol-related admissions fro the same period was 49,300 in the 16-24 age group.
Treatment of ALD depends on the extent of the disease and the damage to the liver. In cases of compensated liver, the treatment or management involves abstinence from alcohol combined with nutritional support. In cases of decompensated liver disease, the treatment plan involves the management of symptoms such as bleeding varices, ascites, encephalopathy and other compliactions. Patients are put on the waiting list for liver transplant. Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is essentially focused on prevention strategies and ways to optimise liver health. Certain herbs such as milk thistle and artichoke have a broad action on the liver – assisting, supporting, toning, strengthening and even protecting. Other notable herbs are also considered in the context of detoxification, fasting and the requirements for nutritional supplements and counselling.
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Primary Health Care Journal is a Royal College of Nursing (RCN) publication.