Background: Since the mid 1970s, a striking reduction in alcohol-related problems has been observed in many Western countries. Liver cirrhosis mortality is considered to be a major indicator of alcohol-related problems in the general population. The aim of the present study is to describe liver cirrhosis mortality trends in European countries between 1970 and 1989.
Methods: This is a descriptive study on liver cirrhosis mortality in 25 European countries, and in four grouped European regions. A Poisson log-linear age-period-cohort model is used to clarify whether the recent trend in mortality represents a short-term fluctuation or an emerging long-term trend. In addition, a descriptive comparison between trends in per capital alcohol consumption and liver cirrhosis mortality is conducted.
Results: In the whole European population and in that of Western and Southern Europe increasing period effects were observed until the second half of the 1970s followed by a decline in the next periods. In Eastern Europe the decline in period effects started in the first half of the 1980s, whereas in Northern Europe an increasing period effect was observed until the second half of the 1970s, followed by a stabilization. Similar trends were observed for per capita alcohol consumption. The age effect analysis showed a continuously rising effect in Eastern Europe, whereas an attenuation of the effect at around age 65 years was observed in Western Europe. Intermediate patterns were observed in Southern and Northern Europe. The birth cohort effect suggested that in the Western and Southern populations mortality could continue to decrease over the next decade, while in Eastern and Northern mortality is still rising and this will probably continue for the next decade.
Conclusions: The age-period-cohort analysis allows targeting of health care and prevention programmes based on future trends. Aetiological and prognostic factors act differently in Europe. A better understanding of the trends would require more detailed information on alcoholism treatment rates, alcohol habits, viral hepatitic infections and other factors involved in the aetiopathogenesis of the disease.