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Alcohol May Blunt Trauma

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, October 07, 2009 7:19 PM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: Traumatic Injury, Brain Injury, Car Accident, Alcohol

Alcohol consumption before injury may have a protective effect on survival.

Reducing the risk of death by 65 percent


IMAGE SOURCE: iStockPhoto / toasting / author: webphotographeer

It is frequently observed in car accidents.

The person who was drinking walks away unscathed while the motorist strapped in suffers traumatic injury.

A couple of new studies say there may be some science behind the phenomena.

The latest study involving nearly 8,000 trauma patients, finds those who tested positive for alcohol seemed to have a better chance of surviving their injuries.

Among the participants, eight percent had alcohol in their system while most had levels about three times the legal limit. Among those who died – seven percent hadn’t been drinking, just one percent of those who had been drinking died.

Drinking reduced the risk of death by 65 percent after the data was adjusted for age and severity of injury.

“This study is not encouraging the use of alcohol,” says Dr. Christian de Virgillio of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute in Torrance, California, and the principal investigator.

“It is seeking to further explore earlier studies that had found alcohol may improve the body’s response to severe injuries. If alcohol is proven to improve the body’s response to traumatic injury, it could lead to treatments that help patients survive and recover more quickly,” he said in a statement.

The research echoes findings from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center last month that looked at 38,000 brain-injured patients who had been drinking before an injury. Those who had been drinking had a better chance of surviving their injury.

For every 100 people who died while sober, only 88 died when they had ethanol in their system, the kind of alcohol found in drinks.

Lead researcher Ali Salim of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles says that animal experiments suggest that relatively low doses of alcohol protect the brain from injury, but high doses increase the risk of death.

However he adds it’s important to remember that alcohol is to blame for half of all injury cases.

How does it happen?

Dr. de Virgillio of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute in Torrance, California, who authored the latest study, says that in response to injury, the body releases substances - interleukins and cytokines - and alcohol may shift the balance from destruction into a healing mode.

And alcohol may make reperfusion injury, when blood rushes into an injured area, less severe.

No one is advocating drinking and driving.

"I think the next step would be to go to the basic science lab to see whether in fact you can demonstrate that alcohol in fact does have potential beneficial effects," de Virgilio said. "It's really too soon at this point to be starting studies in humans. I think we need really to get more data first."

Researchers had been trying to determine if those who were drinking at the time of an accident were more likely or less likely to survive their injuries. #

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