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Women at Higher Risk of Abnormal Burn Scars

Younger patients also more prone, new study finds

WEDNESDAY, March 19 (HealthDay News) -- Abnormal scarring after a burn injury depends on a number of factors and is more likely to occur in younger, female patients, an Italian study finds.

A team at the University of Turin analyzed the medical records of 703 people treated at an outpatient burn clinic between 1994 and 2006. Of those patients, 540 (77 percent) had abnormal scars, including: 310 (44 percent) with hypertrophic (enlarged scars); 34 (five percent) with contracted scars that shorten the length of the tissue; and 196 (28 percent) with hypertrophic-contracted scars.

The researchers found that abnormal (pathological) scarring was most likely to occur in patients who were younger, female, suffered burns on the neck or arms, had multiple surgeries, or received meshed skin grafts -- where sections of skin are mechanically cut and expanded, as opposed to sheet or solid grafts.

The findings appear in the March/April issue of the journal Archives of Plastic Surgery.

Normal scars are characterized by minor alterations in skin properties, while abnormal scars are caused by disturbances in the wound healing process. The study authors said more research is needed to better understand the clinical course of post-burn scarring.

"Our data seem to support the role of the immune system for a number of reasons," they wrote.

The researchers noted that females have a higher risk for both abnormal burn scarring and most immune-related diseases, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. They also noted that younger people have a more active immune system and are more likely to develop abnormal burn scars.

The findings from this study could help doctors improve scar outcomes for burn patients.

"Risk information may be easily integrated into routine medical clinical practice for early risk stratification, thus facilitating optimal medical prevention and helping physicians adopt follow-up timing and more aggressive or experimental therapies for subjects likely to be at high risk," the study authors wrote.

Improving post-burn scarring outcomes is important because burn scars can have a major impact on a patient's quality of life, the researchers said. They noted that burn scars "have been associated with anxiety, social avoidance, depression, a disruption in activities of daily living, the onset of sleep disturbances and all of the consequent difficulties in returning to normal life after physical rehabilitation."

More information

The University of Utah Health Sciences Center has more about preventing burn scars.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCES: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Mar. 17, 2008

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