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Action urged on rising cases of liver disease

Chief Medical Officer warns on 'preventable' cause of death
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

21st November 2012 - Tough action is needed to halt the increasing number of cases of liver disease, says the chief medical officer for England.

In her first report since assuming the role, Professor Dame Sally Davies warns that over the last decade the number of people under 65 dying from chronic liver disease has risen by around a fifth. She says harmful levels of drinking are increasingly a contributory factor.

Campaigners say the findings must result in more resources to tackle high levels of alcohol consumption.

The report, which gives a snapshot of the state of health in England, draws on information from a series of sources and will be used by local authorities and Public Health England as they assume their new roles to improve people’s health.

Poor European record

Dame Sally Davies says in a statement "I was struck by the data on liver disease particularly. This is the only major cause of preventable death that is on the increase in England that is generally falling in other comparable European nations. We must act to change this."

There are three major causes of liver disease: obesity, undiagnosed infection and drinking alcohol in excess of recommended limits.

The NHS defines harmful drinking as women who regularly drink more than six units of alcohol a day (or more than 35 units a week) and men who regularly drink more than eight units a day (or 50 units a week).

In an emailed statement, a spokesman for The British Liver Trust says: "Dame Sally highlights that the majority of liver disease is preventable but we need far more resources to effectively prevent and tackle the lifestyle issues that are to blame - alcohol harm, obesity and blood borne viruses.

"We also need to ensure GPs have far more awareness of liver disease and can recognise lifestyles that might be changed and early symptoms of liver disease so that effective treatments can be started."

Health survey

The chief medical officer's report examined a number of other areas of public health concern, For example, it found that:

  • Those who live the longest spend the shortest amount of time with a limiting long term illness such as heart disease, diabetes or osteoporosis
  • 727,000 years of life were lost to cancer in the under 75s in 2010 and 20% of these were due to lung cancer - the single largest cause
  • Around one in three adults have three or more risk factors such as raised cholesterol, diabetes or are overweight, which increase their chance of poor health. This increases to around two out of five adults in the most deprived areas.

The chief medical officer says evidence shows that nearly 70% of us have two or more habits or medical risk factors like smoking, harmful alcohol use or not eating enough fruit and veg, that are linked with life limiting diseases. It recommends that health professionals should focus on tackling these together rather than individually.

The report also calls for:

  • Better access to diabetes care - only 50% of people registered as diabetic receive the annual recommended checks they should
  • Public Health England should ensure that useful information is gathered on long term conditions such as loss of hearing, back pain, incontinence and dementia
  • The new health systems must work closely together to increase survival and reduce mortality from cancers such as lung and pancreatic cancer
Reviewed on November 21, 2012

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