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Alcohol Might Lower Death Rates in Brain Injury Patients
Date:9/25/2009

Could have protective effect, but also raises chances of complications, study shows

FRIDAY, Sept. 25 (HealthDay News) -- People who suffer serious head injuries are more likely to survive if they have alcohol in their bloodstream, a new study suggests.

Data on more than 38,000 people with such injuries showed that 9.7 percent of those with no trace of alcohol in the bloodstream died in the hospital, compared to a 7.7 percent death rate for those whose tests showed the presence of alcohol, according to a report in the September issue of the Archives of Surgery.

While the injured people whose blood contained alcohol were more likely to have complications (12.9 percent versus 9.8 percent), they spent less time on a ventilator or in the intensive care unit, said researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

The information came from analysis of the 53 percent of 72,294 cases listed in the National Trauma Data Bank in which alcohol testing was done. Traces of alcohol were found in 37.9 percent of those tested.

Smaller human studies have shown the same effect, as have animal studies, the report said. The animal studies indicated several possible mechanisms for alcohol's protective effect, such as diminished activity of catecholamines, the "fight-or-flight" hormones that include adrenaline, the researchers wrote.

"Our group has been working on blunting these catecholamine responses," said study author Dr. Ali Salim, an associate professor of surgery at Cedars-Sinai. "We came across animal studies showing that alcohol can do that in brain injury, so we looked at our largest database to see if we could find a correlation."

The study "raises the intriguing possibility that administering ethanol [alcohol] to patients with brain injuries may improve outcome," the report said.

But it's a possibility that requires intensive study before being put into medical use, said
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