Background: The mortality from liver cirrhosis in Iceland is the lowest in the Western world.
Objective: To study the epidemiology of liver cirrhosis mortality and morbidity in Iceland and to obtain a reliable separation between alcoholic cirrhosis (AC) and non-alcoholic cirrhosis (NAC) by using multiple data sources.
Methods: The study included the whole population of Iceland. Mortality was studied through death certificate data for the period 1951-90 and morbidity (clinical incidence) through hospital, autopsy and biopsy records for the period 1971-90.
Results: The average mortality for AC in age group 20 years and older was 8.6 and for NAC 19.2 per 10(6)/year and the average clinical incidence was 22.1 per 10(6)/year for AC and 25.9 per 10(6)/year for NAC. In the morbidity study 44% of cases were due to AC. In the mortality study 24% of cases were due to AC but the data suggested an underreporting of AC for males at a rate of 30%. There was a significant decrease in AC mortality with time but no change in NAC. Average alcohol consumption of inhabitants aged over 15 years increased from 2.1 to 4.9 litres per year (130%) during the period 1951-90.
Conclusion: The incidence of cirrhosis in Iceland is very low for both AC and NAC, accounting for only 0.2% of total deaths. The reasons are unknown. The low incidence of AC in Iceland is probably partly due to low alcohol consumption. The decreasing incidence of AC despite 130% increase in alcohol consumption is thought to be due to intensive treatment of alcoholism. A low prevalence of hepatitis B and C probably contributes to the low incidence of NAC.