TV Death Underscores Cirrhosis Danger for Young Alcoholics

On March 17, 2008 cable network A&E premiered an episode of the one-hour documentary “Intervention”, profiling 34-year-old entrepreneur, cancer survivor, and sever alcoholic Lawrence Ryan. At the end of the show viewers were in for a shock: Ryan had died on 22 February, becoming the first addict profiled on the show to lose his life.

Ryan was dead from liver disease called cirrhosis, brought on by his long struggle with alcohol abuse. During cirrhosis, the organ’s tissues are slowly taken over by fibrous scar tissues, cutting off blood flow and leading to a loss of liver function.

Ryan was consuming about a liter of vodka every day and had developed serious bruises on his hips and torso—indications of his worsening condition, as his liver was no longer able to produce the proteins needed to clot blood.

Some of the shock is derived from Ryan’s young age. Medically the disease has long been linked to alcoholism and patients his age, but among the wider population it has typically been associated with addicts 15-20 years older than him. However, according to Hide Tsukamoto, director of the Research Center for ALPD and Cirrhosis at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, if Ryan began drinking at around age 16, dying from cirrhosis fourteen years later is not unrealistic.

“Youth are vulnerable to liver damage because their nutrition and metabolism can be more easily and profoundly perturbed by alcohol due to their high demand for nutrition and energy to support growth and activity.”

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), cirrhosis is the #12 killer by disease in the US, ending the lives of around 26,000 people each year.

Source: ABC News
Date: Mar. 19, 2008

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