ALCOHOLIC liver disease is becoming increasingly common among young women in Scotland – claiming the lives of females as young as 17.
Groundbreaking research has found that hundreds of female patients in Scotland are being diagnosed with the disease in their 20s and 30s, with the youngest aged just 16.
The median age of women first diagnosed with the condition is now 53.8.
Over two thirds of the 35,000 people diagnosed with alcoholic liver disease in Scotland since 1991 were men, but more female sufferers were of a younger age, with more than 10% in their 30s.
Liver disease is the only major cause of death that is rising in the United Kingdom year-on-year.
Incidence of liver cirrhosis – late stage irreversible damage that can result from alcoholic liver disease – has risen in Scotland and particularly in Greater Glasgow and Clyde since the 1970s.
Co-author of the research, Dr Mathis Heydtmann, a gastroenterologist and liver specialist at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, said doctors in Western Scotland were becoming so familiar with abnormal livers that they were becoming immune to their significance.
Dr Heydtmann said: “Some [medical staff] are fed up with seeing people again and again because they have been told 100 times you need to stop drinking and they still come back in.
“It makes it difficult for people to be as empathetic as they were the first time.
“With the increase [in the number of sufferers], GPs and other specialists have a resistance to referring patients to us because they know we will be flooded.”
Early symptoms of alcoholic liver disease include abdominal pain, fatigue, and loss of appetite, whilst in the later stage, patients may suffer from a swelling abdomen and yellowing of the skin.
Treatment of alcohol related conditions in Scotland costs over £1 million a day.
Aileen Campbell, Minister for Public Health and Sport said:
“The Scottish Government has taken robust action in tackling alcohol misuse since 2008, the quantity discount ban, improved substance misuse education and the new lower drink drive limit.
“Since before 1991, alcohol became more cheaply available and that is linked to increasing harm.
“That is why we remain committed to Minimum Unit Pricing.
“We believe this is the most effective pricing measure to tackle the high strength, low cost alcohol that causes so much damage in our communities.”
According to the NHS, alcohol related liver disease is caused by drinking a large amount of alcohol over a short period of time – binge drinking – or drinking more than the recommended limits for many years.
According to the NHS website: “Researchers define binge drinking as consuming more than eight or more units in a single session for men and six or more for women.”
A unit equates to approximately half a pint of lager, meaning that women who drink three pints in a single session could be at risk.