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Rate of liver transplants for acute alcoholic hepatitis boomed during pandemic

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Posted at 9:01 AM, Aug 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-04 10:01:39-04

There's another health crisis unfolding simultaneously alongside COVID-19.

Alcohol abuse has reached the most extreme point in an increasing number of people.

“We've definitely noticed an increase in the number of patients coming in with alcohol-associated hepatitis,” said Dr. Therese Bittermann with the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

The rate of transplants for acute alcoholic hepatitis boomed during the pandemic. It more than tripled the expected increase. The number of people on the waiting list for transplants rose even higher.

Dr. Bittermann has seen the effects firsthand. While it typically takes years to drink alcohol to the point of developing hepatitis, she believes the pandemic has accelerated use.

“And it stems from a number of various issues, you know, patients who lost their job or had to quit their job perhaps because they have to be involved in childcare, more so than they had previously. And, you know, patients who have been more distant to their social supports who haven't had as much access to mental health care or, you know, addiction care,” said Dr. Bittermann.

Transplant patients for acute alcohol-associated hepatitis are typically in their 40s and 50s

Alcohol causes inflammation in the liver and other organs. The liver can heal itself up to the point of cirrhosis.

There's an indication that women and people who have had bariatric surgery may progress faster with alcohol use and health issues.

“I think the thing that we need to think about more clearly is one, just physicians in general, we all need to have a little bit of increased awareness of this phenomenon of people consuming more alcohol,” said Dr. Bittermann.