Sunday, November 23, 2008

Children 'risking liver disease'

Louise Rhymes describes how she lost her daughter to alcohol abuse

Excessive drinking by children and teenagers is storing up a time bomb of health problems, a charity has warned.

The British Liver Trust says it fears the amount children are drinking is rising, despite a slight dip in the numbers who are actually drinking.

This is putting them at risk of liver disease and liver cancer as they enter their 20s and 30s, the trust says.

The Department of Health said tackling harmful and binge drinking was a priority for the government.

The latest figures show 49 people in their 20s died in 2006 from alcohol-related liver failure - the highest number on record.


The figures, released by the Office of National Statistics, also showed 40% more young people aged between 25 and 29 died from liver disease in 2006 than in the previous year.

Doctors and health campaigners fear these figures could rise over the coming years as children drink more.

Until recently, cirrhosis of the liver, a condition brought on by long-term alcohol abuse, mainly affected older men.

But now doctors are seeing it in men and women in their 20s brought on by excessive drinking.

The week that she passed away, she had liver disease, kidney failure, a hole in her stomach... they told us there was nothing else they could do
Louise Rhymes, on her daughter Stacey

Professor Ian Gilmore of the Royal College of Physicians said: "We are sadly seeing young people in their 20s coming in with jaundice, with swollen bellies because their liver won't process liquids.

"These people didn't make a conscious decision to kill themselves."

Louise Rhymes, who lost her 24-year-old daughter to long-term alcohol abuse earlier this year, said Stacey had been drinking heavily since her teens.

"By the time she was 18, she was drinking every night, probably five litres. She would drink until she'd got none left.

"The week that she passed away, she had liver disease, kidney failure, a hole in her stomach where the alcohol had rotted her stomach. They told us there was nothing else they could do."

Imogen Shillito, the British Liver Trust's director of information and education, said she was worried about the amounts children were drinking.

"The burden on their developing bodies is even greater," she said.

"It means we are storing up a ticking time bomb for the future. As they grow up in their 20s and 30s they could be putting themselves at risk of really serious liver disease and liver cancer.

"This is the progression of the epidemic we and the medical profession have been predicting for several years.

"We continue to ignore the signs of developing liver disease in younger and younger people and earlier deaths are now reality."

She said the latest figures reinforced the charity's call for urgent work to improve early diagnosis and encourage prevention and a national framework to support the NHS.

The Department of Health said it was working to implement a comprehensive strategy to tackle harmful and binge drinking.

"Among other things, the strategy commits £10m for a new public information campaign, tougher enforcement for underage sales and more help for people who want to drink less," said a spokesman.

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