Death rates from liver disease are 4 times higher than they were in 1970. Other major non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and lung conditions have seen a fall in death rates over the same period 2.
Rising deaths are clear in more recent data too. Data from England shows that the number of people dying prematurely from liver disease and liver cancer has increased by almost two-thirds (64%) in the last 20 years 4.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its wider impacts may have compounded the issue. There was a 21% increase in deaths from liver disease in 2021 compared with 2019 5.
This graph compares the death rate in each year back to what it was in 1970, for a range of major diseases 2. Most major diseases have seen a reduction in death rates over that time – shown by the falling lines. Only liver disease shows an overall rise in death rates over this period, with death rates accelerating to 4 times higher than in 1970.
Half of liver disease deaths occur in mid-life
Liver disease affects people of all ages. The average age of death from liver disease in 2020 in England was 61 for men and 62 for women 6.
Deaths are highest in midlife (age 45 to 64) making up half of deaths from liver disease 7. This is followed by people aged 65 to 84 (35% of deaths), with much smaller numbers of deaths in 25 to 44 year-olds (11%) and people aged 85 and over (4%). Fewer than 1% of deaths are in people aged under 25.
Liver disease deaths in men and women
Men are much more likely than women to die from liver disease. Liver disease deaths are nearly twice as high among men compared to women 7.
People with liver disease face stigma on a daily basis
Almost three quarters (73%) of people with a liver condition have experienced stigma 8. And almost a third (29%) feel stigma has stopped them receiving medical care. Read more about the results of our stigma survey.
Together alcohol, viral hepatitis, and overweight and obesity are the major causes of liver disease 9. Societal changes are essential to create an environment where healthy options are readily available to everyone and people are supported to make healthy changes to their daily lives.
Genetic and autoimmune disease, where the body is attacked by its own immune system, are the main non-preventable causes of liver disease.
Many of us are at risk of liver disease, particularly in relation to alcohol consumption and carrying excess bodyweight. Pre-pandemic estimates suggest:
- Around 1 in 5 (18 – 24%) people in the UK drink over the Chief Medical Officers’ low-risk guideline limit of 14 units per week 10. In England alone, 1.9 million people have reported drinking at harmful levels that could cause liver disease 11.
- Almost two thirds (64%) of UK adults are overweight or obese 12.
- The rise in obesity levels among primary school children from 2019-20 to 2020-21 is the highest annual increase (4.5%) since records began in 2007 13.
Around 1 in 10 (9.1%) people receiving a free liver scan on our Love Your Liver roadshow have signs of possible liver damage 14. And 1 in 4 of them (2.5%) could already have advanced levels of liver scarring.
Liver disease is often diagnosed at a late stage
Liver disease can be treated successfully, especially when it is caught early. Too many people are not diagnosed until their disease is advanced and their treatment can only manage symptoms, not cure their condition.
- Three quarters of people with cirrhosis are only diagnosed at crisis point, when they develop potentially life-threatening symptoms of late-stage disease 2.
- 1 in 4 people diagnosed with alcohol-related liver disease in hospital die within 60 days 15.
- It is estimated that 4 in 5 people (80%) with NASH, a more advanced form of non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD), are undiagnosed 16, 17.
Testing for liver disease is vital
Liver disease often has no symptoms, so we need to look for it proactively and have robust processes in place to make sure patients are managed effectively and get the care they need.
Our research shows that at the moment 26% areas have no commissioned pathway for detecting liver disease 18.
Every day in the UK 16 people die from liver cancer 19, 20.
Having liver disease is one of the main risk factors for liver cancer.
- 80 to 90% of people with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) have underlying cirrhosis 21.
- Around 30% of people with bile duct cancer have underlying liver disease 22, 23.
Read more liver cancer statistics on our Liver Cancer UK website.
About these statistics
You are welcome to use these statistics in your own work, please credit the British Liver Trust.
Wherever possible we have included statistics about the UK as a whole. Data is collected differently across the UK nations, so in a few cases we have reported data for the specific nations where the information is publicly available.
If you are developing a media story about liver disease or liver cancer, we are happy to help you. You can find contact details for media enquiries on our press office page.
- Data sources: England and Wales data were accessed from Nomis mortality statistics for 2021 by underlying cause (ICD10 K70-77), sex and age, https://www.nomisweb.co.uk/ accessed November 2022. Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency Registrar General Annual Report 2021 Cause of Death, https://www.nisra.gov.uk/publications/registrar-general-annual-report-2021-cause-death includes ICD-10 K70, K73-74, accessed November 2022. National Records of Scotland vital events reference table 2021 https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/statistics-and-data/statistics/statistics-by-theme/vital-events/general-publications/vital-events-reference-tables/2021/list-of-data-tables#section6 includes ICD-10 K70, K73-74, accessed November 2022.
- Williams R, Aspinall R, Bellis M, et al. Addressing liver disease in the UK: a blueprint for attaining excellence in health care and reducing premature mortality from lifestyle issues of excess consumption of alcohol, obesity, and viral hepatitis. Lancet 2014.
- Premature mortality in 2020 in the most deprived vs least deprived deciles for England https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/liver-disease-profiles-november-2021-update/liver-disease-profiles-november-2021-update (41.0 vs. 10.5 per 100,000) and Scotland https://www.scotpho.org.uk/health-conditions/chronic-liver-disease/data/mortality/ (34.5 vs. 8.2 per 100,000). Accessed September 2022.
- Liver disease profiles, March 2023 update. Office for Health Improvement and Disparities. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/liver-disease-profiles-march-2023-update/liver-disease-profiles-march-2023-update. Accessed 18th May 2023.
- British Liver Trust analysis of national data sets. Data sources: England and Wales data for 2019 and 2021 were accessed from Nomis mortality statistics by underlying cause (ICD10 K70-77), sex and age, November 2022 https://www.nomisweb.co.uk/. Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency Registrar General Annual Reports, includes ICD-10 K70, K73-74 https://www.nisra.gov.uk/publications/registrar-general-annual-reports-2011-2019 and https://www.nisra.gov.uk/publications/registrar-general-annual-report-2021-cause-death accessed November 2022. National Records of Scotland data on vital events for 2019 and 2021, includes ICD-10 codes K70, 73-74 https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/statistics-and-data/statistics/statistics-by-theme/vital-events/general-publications/vital-events-reference-tables/2021/list-of-data-tables#section6 accessed November 2022.
- Liver disease: Applying All Our Health, Office for Health Improvement and Disparities https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/liver-disease-applying-all-our-health/liver-disease-applying-all-our-health accessed Sept 2022
- British Liver Trust analysis of UK deaths from liver disease 2016-2020. All data accessed 20th July 2022. Data sources: England and Wales data were accessed from NOMIS mortality statistics by year, sex, age and underlying cause (ICD-10 K70-77) https://www.nomisweb.co.uk/. Northern Ireland data were taken from the Registrar General Annual Reports 2016 to 2020 (ICD-10 K70, K73-74) https://www.nisra.gov.uk/statistics/births-deaths-and-marriages/registrar-general-annual-report. Scotland data were taken from National Records of Scotland vital events data sets 2016-2020 (ICD K70, K73-74) https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/statistics-and-data/statistics/statistics-by-theme/vital-events/general-publications/vital-events-reference-tables/2020/list-of-data-tables#section6.
- British Liver Trust survey results July 2022. https://britishlivertrust.org.uk/stigma-survey-results/
- UK Health Security Agency. Liver disease: a preventable killer of young adults (2014). https://ukhsa.blog.gov.uk/2014/09/29/liver-disease-a-preventable-killer-of-young-adults/
- England figure of 24% taken from Burton, R. et al. (2016). The Public Health Burden of Alcohol and the Effectiveness and Cost-Effectiveness of Alcohol Control Policies: An Evidence Review. Scotland figure of 24% taken from Scottish Health Survey 2018 https://www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-health-survey-2018-volume-1-main-report/pages/25/. Wales figure of 18% taken from National Survey for Wales 2016-17 to 2018-19 https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/statistics-and-research/2019-10/alcohol-consumption-national-survey-wales-april-2016-march-2019-646.pdf. All accessed September 2022. Data from Northern Ireland is not available in a comparable format.
- Burton R, Henn C, Lavoie D, et al. Public Health England (2016). The Public Health Burden of Alcohol and the Effectiveness and Cost-Effectiveness of Alcohol Control Policies: An Evidence Review
- Age-standardized prevalence of overweight in people aged 18 years and over, WHO estimates (%) for the most recent year available (2016) from Health For All database https://gateway.euro.who.int/en/datasets/european-health-for-all-database/ Accessed August 2022.
- NHS Digital 2021, https://digital.nhs.uk/news/2021/significant-increase-in-obesity-rates-among-primary-aged-children-latest-statistics-show accessed July 2023.
- British Liver Trust analysis of transient elastography results of 8.0KPa or higher from our mobile community scanning unit 2011-2022.
- Roberts SE, John A, Brown J, Napier DJ, Lyons RA, Williams JG. Early and late mortality following unscheduled admissions for severe liver disease across England and Wales. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics 2019 49(10): 1334-45.
- Morgan A, Hartmanis S, Tsochatzis E et al. Disease burden and economic impact of diagnosed non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2018. The European Journal of Health Economics 2021 22:505-518.
- Alexander M, Loomis AK, Fairburn-Beech J, et al. Real-world data reveal a diagnostic gap in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. BMC Medicine (2018) 16:130.
- British Liver Trust research into CCGs and Health Boards carried out in 2020. https://britishlivertrust.org.uk/soundthealarm/improving-early-diagnosis-of-liver-disease/
- Cancer Research UK. Cancer mortality statistics. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/mortality/common-cancers-compared#heading-Three (accessed May 2023)
- Cancer Research UK. Liver cancer statistics. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/liver-cancer#heading-One (accessed February 2023)
- Nordenstedt H, White DL and El-Serag HB. The changing pattern of epidemiology in hepatocellular carcinoma. Digestive and Liver Disease 2010 42(Suppl 3):S206-14.
- Selvadurai S, Mann K, Mithra S, et al. Cholangiocarcinoma miscoding in hepatobiliary centres. European Journal of Surgical Oncology 2020 47(3):635-639.
- Pericleous M and Khan SA. Epidemiology of HPB Malignancy in the Elderly. European Journal of Surgical Oncology 2021 47(3 Part A):503-513.