21 November 2012

Stabbed or shot? Drink up

by Will Parker

Hospital patients with traumatic injuries such as fractures, internal injuries and open wounds were far more likely to survive if they had consumed alcohol, and the protective effect increased in proportion to the amount of alcohol consumed. That's according to a new study from the University of Illinois, which supports past research that also showed significant protective effects from alcohol, albeit from a much smaller data set.

"If you are intoxicated there seems to be a pretty substantial protective effect," said epidemiologist Lee Friedman, author of the study which appears in the journal Alcohol. "The more alcohol you have in your system, the more the protective effect."

Friedman's analysis took in data from more than 190,000 patients treated at trauma centers between 1995 and 2009. The patients were tested for blood alcohol content, which Friedman said ranged from 0.0 to 0.5 percent at the time they were admitted.

Friedman found the survival benefit extended from the lowest blood alcohol concentration (below 0.1 percent) through the highest levels (up to 0.5 percent). The survival benefits manifested across the range of injuries, with burns as the only exception.

"At the higher levels of blood alcohol concentration, there was a reduction of almost 50 percent in hospital mortality rates," Friedman said. "This protective benefit persists even after taking into account injury severity and other factors known to be strongly associated with mortality following an injury."

Friedman doesn't know where the protective effect come from, but notes that some animal studies have shown a neuro-protective effect from alcohol. Friedman stresses that his findings shouldn't encourage people to drink. "Alcohol intoxication - even minor inebriation - is associated with an increased risk of being injured," he warned.

He concludes that further research is warranted, as it could reveal the mechanism behind the protective effect. "We could then treat patients post-injury, either in the field or when they arrive at the hospital, with drugs that mimic alcohol," he suggests.

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Source: University of Illinois at Chicago