MILAN, April 23 /PRNewswire/ --
- 29 Million EU Citizens (6%) Have Liver Diseases, 5th Most Common Cause of Death
- Yearly, Liver Cancer Alone Takes 40,000 Lives; Alcohol Abuse Takes 13,000
- Number With Fatty Liver Disease Stable or Growing; Viral Hepatitis Declines
More than 6,000 physicians and scientists from around the world gathered today in this historic Italian city to attend the opening sessions of the 43rd Annual Meeting of the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL), which runs until April 27th. Not surprisingly, several of the first presentations focused on trends in the prevalence of each of the major liver diseases, including continuing declines in new cases of hepatitis B and C, but stability or increases in fatty liver disease due either to excessive consumption of alcohol or non-alcoholic causes (NAFLD - non-alcoholic fatty liver disease).
Hepatologists (liver disease specialists) study and treat a variety of acute and chronic conditions affecting this largest internal organ of the body. The acute category includes diseases that typically result from inflammation or infection due to injurious agents such as viruses, alcohol, and drugs. The most prominent conditions - each of which may arise in an acute form but then progress to a chronic state -- are alcoholic liver disease; hepatitis B, C, and D; non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD); and NASH (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, the most severe subset of NAFLD).
The transition from an acute to a chronic state occurs when the patient fails to recover and the acute infection or disease produces ongoing damage to the liver. Cirrhosis - which refers to the death of liver cells, altered cell regeneration, deposition of fibrous scar tissue, and ultimately the impairment of liver function - represents the final stage of many chronic liver diseases. Cirrhosis can only partially be reversed, but treatments can stop or slow its progression. When uncontrollable complications of cirrhosis occur, or when damage precludes sufficient liver function, a liver transplant becomes necessary. Cirrhosis is the major risk factor for the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a primary cancer of liver cells, which may also require transplantation.
Estimates suggest 10 million carriers of viral hepatitis in Europe, of which over 8 million are infected with HCV. Although statistics vary widely by country, HCV accounts for a large (or in some countries, majority) proportion of all cases of cirrhosis and HCC. Although precise figures are not available, alcoholic liver disease is a growing problem in both Western and Eastern Europe, in part because of changing lifestyles and the increasing numbers of women and adolescents who drink to excess (a problem that in the past was largely a phenomenon of adult males). The Dionysos study, conducted in Northern Italy, reported that 4% of the population had alcoholic liver disease of varying severity. Alcoholic liver disease is the second most common indication for liver transplantation, after HCV. NAFLD and NASH denote fatty infiltration of the liver that are not due to excessive alcohol, and are related instead to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and the metabolic syndrome. These abnormalities are now receiving considerable attention not only because they may progress to liver cirrhosis, but also as additional risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The best current estimates suggest that in the general population NAFLD can be found in 3% to 24% of adults.
Despite improved prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, the overall costs of liver disease remain very high because of an increase prevalence of selected conditions, and the common progression to a chronic state possibly leading to life-threatening complications.
The European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) aims to promote investigation into liver disease and improve the treatments that currently exist for these conditions. The association, through its annual meetings, seeks to inform and educate both the scientific community as well as society in general about the increasing occurrence of liver diseases along with the importance of understanding these conditions in order to treat and prevent them. Since its creation in 1966, the EASL congress has been hosted in 20 different European countries. Currently the association has over 1400 members and the annual congress attracts over 6000 delegates from over 65 countries each year.
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