A nationwide population-based prospective study of cirrhosis in Iceland

Sigurdur Olafsson*, Sigurjon Rögnvaldsson, Ottar M. Bergmann, Jon G. Jonasson, Ubaldo Benitez Hernandez, Einar S. Björnsson

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background & Aims: The incidence of cirrhosis in Iceland has been the lowest in the world with only 3 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Alcohol consumption has almost doubled in Iceland from 1980 to 2016. Obesity has also risen and hepatitis C virus has spread among people who inject drugs in Iceland. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of these risk factors on the incidence and aetiology of cirrhosis in Iceland. Methods: The study included all patients diagnosed with cirrhosis for the first time during 2010–2015. Diagnosis was based on liver histology or 2 of 4 criteria: cirrhosis on imaging, ascites, varices, and/or elevated INR. Results: Overall, 157 patients were diagnosed, 105 (67%) males, mean age 61 years. The overall incidence was 9.7 cases per 100,000 inhabitants annually. Alcohol was the only underlying cause in 48/157 (31%), non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in 34/157(22%), and alcohol and hepatitis C together in 23/157(15%) were the most common causes. Only 6% of patients had an unknown cause of cirrhosis. Upon diagnosis, the median model for end-stage liver disease score was 11 (IQR 8–15), 53% were of Child-Pugh class A whereas 61 (39%) had ascites, 11% encephalopathy, and 8% variceal bleeding. In all, 25% of deaths were from HCC and 25% from liver failure. Conclusion: A major increase in incidence of cirrhosis has occurred in Iceland associated with increases in alcohol consumption, obesity, and hepatitis C. In a high proportion NAFLD was the aetiology and very few had unknown cause of cirrhosis. The highest death rate was from HCC. Lay summary: In a nationwide population-based study from Iceland, including all patients diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver over a period of 5 years, we found the incidence of new cases had increased 3-fold compared with a previous study 20 years ago. The increase is attributable to increased alcohol consumption, an epidemic of diabetes and obesity, and infection with the hepatitis C virus. Furthermore, we found that with thorough investigations, a specific cause for cirrhosis could be found in 94% of patients. Patients with cirrhosis frequently die of liver cancer and other complications related to their liver disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100282
Pages (from-to)100282-Skorpulifur
JournalJHEP Reports
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021 The Author(s).

Other keywords

  • Aetiology of cirrhosis
  • Alcohol
  • Cirrhosis
  • Hepatitis C
  • Incidence of cirrhosis
  • AIH, autoimmune hepatitis
  • ALD, alcoholic liver disease
  • CIF, cumulative incidence function
  • CRR, competing-risks regression
  • HCC, hepatocellular carcinoma
  • MELD, model for end-stage liver disease
  • NAFLD, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • NALD, non-alcoholic liver disease
  • NASH, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis
  • PBC, primary biliary cirrhosis
  • PSC, primary sclerosing cholangitis
  • SHRs, subhazard ratios
  • Liver Cirrhosis


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