Cirrhosis of the liver mortality increasing in Finland faster than elsewhere in Europe
Alcohol consumption biggest reason for trend
Deaths from cirrhosis of the liver is increasing in Finland faster than in other European countries.
The trend is seen as exceptional for two reasons.
In the first place, mortality from the disease is decreasing in most of the continent, including some of the old wine countries of Europe. Only three countries show an increase - Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Finland..
Of these, Finland has left the others in its wake, including the traditional wine-producing countries of Southern Europe, where deaths from cirrhosis have long been declining.
“Most of the deaths from cirrhosis of the liver among Finns can be attributed to alcohol”, says Martti Färkkilä, head physician of the clinic of gastroenterology at the Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District.
Two other factors increase the incidence of cirrhosis. One of them is adult-type diabetes and the metabolic syndrome that precedes it.
Both of these two have increased in Finland along with increased obesity among the population.
The results can be seen clearly in statistics: alcohol is the most common factor in deaths of both men and women.
In 2007, 1,796 people in Finland died of alcohol-related diseases, accidents, and alcohol poisoning. In 2001 the figure was 1,260.
Alcohol-related liver disease alone killed 1,145 people in 2007, nearly double the number for 2001.
Although alcohol is not the only cause of cirrhosis of the liver, it is overwhelmingly the most frequent cause.
Just over 80 people die each year of cirrhosis or fibrosis of the liver caused by something other than drinking.
Finns appear to be especially susceptible to cirrhosis. A study published by the British internal medicine publication Gut indicates that it takes less consumption of alcohol on average for a Finn to come down with the disease than with many other nationalities.
The article calculated the correlation between death from liver disease and the consumption of alcohol in European countries.
The researchers noticed that it takes less alcohol for a Finn to develop a fatal liver disease than for a Spaniard, for instance.
Finns who drink the equivalent of per capita consumption in Ireland are more likely to damage their livers.
Dr. Färkkilä sees these more sensitive cases constantly.
“The youngest cirrhosis patients can be under 30 years of age”, he says. “The clearest epidemic is among those aged 35-40."
The wet habits of Finnish young adults can also be seen in statistics on causes of death. The number of alcohol-related deaths among men aged 35 - 39 in 2007 was double that of 2001. The youngest to die of drinking were men aged 20-24 and women aged 25-29.
“There are many 40-year-old women in hospital who have damaged their liver by drinking. It only takes a couple of glasses of wine a day”, Färkkilä said.
“We get people who have never actually been drunk. People get used to alcohol; their heads can take it but their livers do not.”