Cirrhosis is a burden on the individual and on public health. The World Health Organization's metric of public health burden is the disability-adjusted life-year (DALY), the sum of years of life lost due to premature death and years of life lived with disability. The more DALYs attributable to a disease, the greater its burden on public health. Cirrhosis was responsible for 26.8% fewer DALYs in 2019 than in 1990, which is positive, but the reduction in DALYs across the spectrum of diseases in and outside the liver was 34.4%. Hepatitis C (26% of DALYs), alcohol (24%), and hepatitis B (23%) contribute almost equally to the global burden of cirrhosis. The contribution from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (8%) is small but increasing. There is substantial global variation in the burden and causes of cirrhosis. We find that the poorest countries carry the greatest burden of cirrhosis, and that this burden is primarily caused by cirrhosis from hepatitis B infection. Interventions targeting hepatitis B infection are known, but not fully implemented. In more affluent countries, alcohol and hepatitis C are the dominant causes of cirrhosis, but non-alcoholic fatty liver will likely become a dominant cause of cirrhosis in parallel with the increasing prevalence of obesity. We also argue that the World Health Organization underestimates the public health burden associated with cirrhosis because it assigns zero disability to compensated cirrhosis and considers decompensated cirrhosis as only mildly disabling.
Peter Jepsen, Zobair M Younossi