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Alcoholism & Addiction

Alcohol Affects Inflammatory Response after Injury

Heavy alcohol consumption is associated with a higher risk of injury. With inhibitions relaxed by alcohol, consumers often engage in risky behaviors and increase the likelihood of injury.

A study from the Loyola University Health System offers evidence that injuries sustained while intoxicated may be more dangerous than previously understood. The researchers found that binge drinking could change the body’s immune system response when orthopedic surgery is performed.

Led by bone biologist John Callaci, PhD, the study was conducted on animal models. It was recently published in the April 20, 2011 edition of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.

Previous research published in the American Journal of Orthopedics showed that a high rate of patients with fractures tested positive for alcohol in their blood and almost a third were shown to be legally drunk. Additional studies have associated alcohol with longer hospital stays and higher infection rates for trauma patients.

After an injury, the immune system produces an inflammatory response. However, in cases of severe injury, the inflammatory response can overwhelm the system and cause organ failure or acute respiratory distress syndrome. When determining when to perform necessary orthopedic surgery, physicians must take into account the levels of the inflammatory response.

The researchers found that in animal models, measuring blood markers of the inflammatory response may be unreliable if the patient has consumed alcohol. When the rats were injected with the equivalent of 2.5 times the legal limit of alcohol for driving and had an injury (in this case, broken legs), the alcohol actually boosted the inflammatory response.

Binge alcohol consumption resulted in contradictory signs of inflammatory response levels. When the researchers tested the chemical markers in the blood, the alcohol seemed to be suppressing the inflammatory response. When the lungs were examined, however, the opposite was found. Alcohol had actually boosted the inflammatory response.

The authors of the study believe that the difference in measurements between the blood and the lungs of intoxicated animals shows that it is possible that alcohol is causing doctors to have a false sense of the inflammatory response in persons that require surgery after binge drinking results in injury.

The research conducted at Loyola University requires further study to determine whether the results can be duplicated in humans, but the results provide a platform for examining the higher risk of elevated inflammatory response after binge drinking.

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