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Jun 07, 2014 05:50 PM EDT

Alcohol May Reduce Cardiac, Renal Complications In Trauma Patients

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Injured patients who have alcohol in their system may have a reduced risk of developing later complications, according to a recent study.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health found that intoxicated trauma patients have a reduced risk for developing cardiac and renal complications later. Among patients who did develop complications, those with alcohol in their blood were less likely to die.

"After an injury, if you are intoxicated there seems to be a substantial protective effect," Lee Friedman, author of the study and injury epidemiologist, said in a statement.

For the study, researchers analyzed 10 years of cases at level I and level II trauma units in Illinois.  Children under 16 and patients with certain injuries, such as burns and superficial wounds, were excluded from the study. Nearly 85,000 trauma patients with measured blood alcohol levels were involved in the study.

Researchers found that blood alcohol concentration was associated with a reduced risk of developing any complication, and with fewer complications overall. In patients who had alcohol in their blood, cardiac complications were reduced by 23.5 percent. Renal complications were reduced by 30 percent.

"Even though alcohol is metabolized quickly by the body, it appears the protective benefit lasts long after there should be only trace amounts in the body," Friedman said.

Friedman said it is unclear if alcohol's protective effect comes during the initial period after injury, when alcohol is still present in the blood -- or if the benefit comes from alcohol's metabolites, in tandem with the body's compensatory responses to both the alcohol and the injury.

Researchers said the study raises questions for treatment of traumatic injuries.

"The current analysis shows there were reductions in medical complications dominating the cardiovascular system and kidneys, which provides clues to solving this interesting and potentially life-saving puzzle," Friedman said.

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