A study of admissions for liver disease at Beaumont Hospital has shown an increase of 30 per cent over the 18 months from the first lockdown.
Professor John Ryan, a consultant at the hepatology unit at the hospital, told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show that such figures were also coming through at other Irish hospitals and internationally as people were drinking more at home during lockdown.
The study compares admission figures from before and during Covid and highlights how the increase in people drinking at home has led to an increase in liver disease, he said.
In many cases the people involved did not know that they had liver disease, he added. “It’s a silent killer. The majority will not even know they have the condition.”
People continued to “drink away” until the internal damage was advanced, he explained, outlining that the way a liver specialist examined blood samples was different from a GP. Half of people with cirrhosis had “normal” liver test results: “It could be normal, but there are big problems underneath.”
In some cases, it was not until the patient was jaundiced that the extent of the liver damage became apparent, Prof Ryan said, adding that he had patients on his ward who were aged from 20 to 80-years-old, across both genders.
Prof Ryan said that in Ireland, alcohol was ingrained in society. People need to be better aware of the guidelines for alcohol intake which are17 units weekly for men and 11 units per week for women.
There are 10-11 units in a bottle of wine, he pointed out, so people who were drinking a bottle of wine five nights a week were consuming 50 units a week.
“That’s a lot. When you’re getting to that range you would need to come see me,” he warned.
Once diagnosed, people with liver damage could lead a full life if their condition was managed, he said, but cirrhosis was irreversible. “Some can be treated and looked after once the complications are screened for and they live a healthy existence apart from alcohol.”
Prof Ryan said that during lockdown, people had started having a glass of wine a day, which sometimes led to half a bottle a day. People were self-medicating, drinking at home because it was cheaper.
It was possible to consume 100 units of alcohol in a week at a cost of €50, he said, and there were no closing hours.
“A perfect storm, that’s what we’re seeing now.”
Prof Ryan said minimum unit pricing, which is due to be introduced in January, could help reduce the levels of alcohol intake.