Digestive disease costing Australia billions, as serious side overlooked
Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) and peptic ulcer disease (PUD), two often trivialised digestive diseases are costing the nation nearly $17 billion per year1 - or $8,000 for every sufferer - according to a report released today by Access Economics and The Gut Foundation.
The Gut Instincts Report, which has surprised medical experts, also predicts that as Australia's population ages, costs associated with reflux oesophagitis (heartburn) and peptic ulcer disease will continue to rise, due to the ageing population, unless preventive action is taken.
"While we have long known that reflux and ulcer diseases significantly impact quality of life and can cause serious complications, we had no idea of the extent of the problem," said Professor Terry Bolin, President of The Gut Foundation.
"Our research concluded that not only do reflux and ulcer disease affect one in ten Australians - making them amongst the most common diseases in Australia but if left untreated, patients with these digestive disorders experience a 10 per cent reduction in the overall quality of their lives," he said.
"It still amazes me that so many Australians dismiss digestive diseases. This research paints a picture of individual suffering, trivialisation of a common disease, significant disease burden and a multi-billion dollar economic drain."
Professor Bolin claims there is a serious side to these common digestive disorders that is often overlooked. "Ulcers can lead to intestinal bleeding, hospitalisation and occasionally death, while reflux can cause ulceration, scarring and narrowing of the oesophagus (food pipe) and in severe cases can lead to Barrett's Oesophagus, which is a precursor to cancer of the oesophageus," he said.
While the Gut Instincts Report concluded that reflux and ulcer disease account for more than 1,100 deaths each year, it is the substantial impact on patients' quality of life, rather than the death rate, that presents the major burden of the disease, according to Access Economics Director and health economist, Lynne Pezzullo.
"Reflux and ulcer disease have a major impact on not just the digestive system, but on the productivity of the individual and the Australian community," Ms Pezzullo said.
"Australia loses $7.4 billion annually from reduced productivity, absenteeism, presenteeism and lower employment resulting from reflux and ulcer disease," she said.
Meanwhile, the wellbeing burden of reflux and ulcer disease caused by disability and premature death totals $7.2 billion each year.
"The failure to adequately control the symptoms of these diseases has a substantial impact on quality of life. In the case of reflux, this is characterised by regurgitation of stomach acid into the oesophagus that causes heartburn, chest pain and impacts nearly every aspect of life."
Professor Bolin believes this stems from the 'suffer in silence' mentality displayed by many Australians with heartburn and other digestive diseases.
"Too many people simply put up with these symptoms, don't consult a doctor and, therefore, remain ignorant to the availability of prescription medications that control acid and help improve quality of life," he said.The Gut Foundation hopes to use the findings of this major health economics report to partner with Federal, State and Territory Governments to reduce the increasing burden of digestive disease in Australia.
The report was produced for The Gut Foundation by Access Economics, in consultation with leading gastroenterologists, and was supported with funding by AstraZeneca Australia, which had no involvement in the direction, analysis or findings of the report.
References:1. Access Economics (2007) "GUT Instincts: The Economic Impact of GORD & PUD". Report for the Gut Foundation, May 2007, p.64