New Study Finds Significant Increase in Alcoholic Liver Disease Hospitalizations Among Women During Pandemic

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — During the COVID-19 pandemic, alcoholic liver disease (ALD) hospitalizations increased significantly among women—especially those younger than 50, according to a study published in World of Hepatology.

Recognizing the widespread personal, economic, and social impact of the virus, the team of researchers from Saint Luke’s Health System set out to learn more about ALD hospitalizations before and during the pandemic.

Multiple studies have indicated that the COVID pandemic resulted in greater psychosocial and financial stresses on women compared to men. Alcoholic liver disease plays a substantial role in the need for transplantation and has traditionally been considered a disease most likely to affect middle-aged to older men.

Compared to pre-pandemic hospitalizations, researchers found a 33% increase in ALD hospitalizations among women younger than 50, along with a 22% increase among women older than 50. 

In men younger than 50, ALD hospitalizations also increased 24%. But men above that age saw a decrease.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have been concerned about the adverse effects that may have been experienced by our Kansas City patient population,” said John Campbell, MD, a third-year fellow at Saint Luke’s Health System and gastroenterologist with Saint Luke’s Physician Group starting in July. “Early observations at Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City suggested an increased number of admissions for ALD during the pandemic. Our study confirmed this, but with a surprising increase in our population of women under the age of 50.”

John Helzberg, MD, a gastroenterologist and hepatologist at Saint Luke’s, said additional responsibilities during the COVID-pandemic may have added to the strain on women.

“During the pandemic, studies have suggested that it was mostly women who bore the added burden of caring for children and supervising virtual learning at home, in addition to continued work responsibilities. The impact of these stresses may have played a role in increasing alcohol consumption,” Dr. Helzberg said. “Multiple studies have shown that women are at greater risk of ALD progressing to cirrhosis compared to men. This is likely because they have significantly less gastric alcohol dehydrogenase, which metabolizes alcohol, so they can have proportionately more alcohol delivered to the liver when drinking the same amount of alcohol.”

“We believe it’s important to disseminate this information broadly as we care for patients seeking assistance with alcohol abstinence after a very difficult three years,” said Dr. Campbell.

Additional collaborators on the study from Saint Luke’s include Vinay Jahagirdar, MD; Kevin F. Kennedy, senior biostatistician; and Adel Muhanna, MD. 

Read the full study “Hospitalizations for Alcoholic Liver Disease During the COVID-19 Pandemic Increased More for Women, Especially Younger Women, Compared to Men” in World of Hepatology.

About Saint Luke’s Health System 
Saint Luke’s Health System is a faith-based, not-for-profit, aligned health system committed to providing the highest levels of excellence in compassionate health care and health-related services. Saint Luke’s has more than 16 hospitals and campuses and more than 100 primary care and specialty offices treating patients in 65 specialty services across 67 counties in Missouri and Kansas. Saint Luke’s has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the elite hospitals in the nation. For more than 140 years, Saint Luke’s has been dedicated to enhancing the physical, mental, and spiritual health of the diverse communities we serve. Follow us: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn 

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