According to research selected for presentation at Digestive Disease Week (DDW) 2021, inpatient consults for alcohol-related gastrointestinal (GI) and liver diseases have increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and have stayed elevated. The number of patients requiring inpatient endoscopic interventions for alcohol-related GI and liver disorders has also increased, indicating an apparent worsening trend in disease severity.
“Many people encountered major negative effects when we went into lockdown, such as social alienation, job loss, and a rise in anxiety and depression,” said Waihong Chung, MD, Ph.D., the study’s lead researcher and a research fellow at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island. “These events could have caused people to consume more alcohol, which may explain why the number of consultations for alcohol-related diseases is the.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic in Rhode Island, researchers conducted a hospital-wide audit of all inpatient GI consults performed during the lockdown and re-opening phases. To assess the degree of improvements in disease burden for alcohol-related GI and liver disorders, the data was compared to the same timeframe in 2019.
During the lockdown, the overall number of GI consults fell by 27% due to limitations on hospital visits, but the proportion of consults for alcohol-related GI and liver disorders rose by 59.6%, including alcohol-related forms of hepatitis, cirrhosis, pancreatitis, and gastritis, according to researchers. In contrast, the proportions of consults for non-alcohol-related liver disorders, biliary obstruction/injury, inflammatory bowel diseases, and gastrointestinal bleeding did not alter significantly.
“We discovered that the majority of admissions for alcohol-related GI and liver diseases during the lockdown process clustered around weeks five, six, and seven of lockdown,” Dr. Chung said. “Because this timeline corresponds to the time it takes for these diseases’ signs to manifest, the onset of the pandemic may have had an effect on patients’ alcohol intake.”
The overall amount of all GI consults was restored to pre-pandemic levels during the reopening process, although the proportion of consults for alcohol-related GI and liver diseases remained high at 78.7%. Furthermore, relative to 2019, the number of patients with alcoholic hepatitis has more than doubled (127.2%), and the number of patients needing inpatient endoscopic procedures has increased significantly (34 percent vs. 12.8 percent).
Researchers conclude that health issues related to elevated alcohol use could be much higher in the population since many people with alcohol-related conditions do not seek treatment right away. They advise primary care physicians and gastroenterologists to ask patients about their alcohol intake more often in order to detect someone who needs treatment earlier rather than later.
“Validated screening instruments, such as the CAGE questionnaire [for alcohol use], take less than a minute to administer and have fair sensitivity and specificity for alcohol use disorders,” Dr. Chung said.
Heavy drinking is described as consuming more than four drinks on any given day or more than 14 drinks per week for men, and more than three drinks on any given day or more than seven drinks per week for women, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Dr. Chung explained that “alcohol-related GI or liver diseases can cause sudden weight gain, yellowing of the skin, confusion, nausea, reduced appetite, black stool, and/or extreme abdominal pain.” “I urge anyone having these symptoms, as well as anyone worried about their own drinking, to seek medical help as soon as possible.”