TheFor many years, Jessica Duenas led what she calls a double life. She was the first in her immigrant family to go to college. In 2019, she won Kentucky’s Teacher of the Year award. That same year, Duenas typically downed nearly a liter of liquor every night.
By the time she was 34, she was diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis, a serious inflammation of her liver that doctors warned could could soon lead to irreversible scarring and even death if she didn’t didn’t stop drinking, and quickly.
“I couldn’t keep down any food,” Duenas says. “My belly was supersensitive, like if I pressed on certain parts of it, it would hurt a lot. My eyes were starting to get yellowish.”
Cases of alcoholic liver disease — which includes milder fatty liver and the permanent scarring of cirrhosis, as well as alcoholic hepatitis — are up 30% over the last year at the University of Michigan’s health system, says Dr. Jessica Mellinger, a liver specialist there.
The pathway to that sort of liver disease, especially severe versions, varies from person to person, liver specialists say, and can be exacerbated by obesity, certain genetic factors, and underlying health problems. Drinking a glass or two of wine — even every day — is unlikely to cause this sort of liver damage in many people, the experts say, though it’s possible.
But Mellinger says she and other doctors are seeing patients who have edged up to higher amounts of drinking in the last year — to a bottle of wine, or 5-6 drinks, a day — which increases the chances of liver disease severe enough to require hospitalization. And binge drinking, even if less frequent, can also be damaging.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not yet compiled data on any overall increase in hospitalizations from alcoholic liver disease since the pandemic began. But, Mellinger says, “in my conversations with my colleagues at other institutions, everybody is saying the same thing: ‘Yep, it’s astronomical. It’s just gone off the charts.’”
Article originally posted on NPR (3/16/21)
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