Patients due for surgery should control the amount of alcohol they drink beforehand, doctors have warned. A new study shows drinking even moderate amounts prior to surgery could slow down recovery and weaken the immune system. Alcoholism medical symptoms.
Claudia Spies, an intensive care specialist at the Charité University hospital in Berlin, said: "A significantly high rate of complications can develop in patients who consume alcohol at levels that are less than excessive."
She said that around 20% of adults admitted to hospital drink three beers or two glasses of wine every day for a prolonged period, and they were more likely to fall victim to pneumonia or heart muscle disease or suffer complications such as bleeding after surgery. "In addition," Spies said, "some 50% of patients who are committed to hospitals after an accident suffered their injuries under the influence of alcohol. Consequently, the rate of immune-system complications in emergency medicine is also very high."
Elizabeth Kovacs, director of the alcohol research programme at Loyola University medical centre in Illinois in the US, said: "More alcohol abusers die of pulmonary infections than liver cirrhosis. Although a good deal of clinical and experimental evidence suggests that chronic alcohol exposure is detrimental to the health of the subject, only recently has it been suggested that acute alcohol exposure has comparable effects on immune responses to an infectious challenge.
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"By acute alcohol exposure, I mean a single exposure at binge levels - greater than four drinks in a female or greater than five drinks in a male - or multi-day binge drinking."
The scientists in Germany confirmed their ideas with experiments on mice. They carried out abdominal surgery on 32 rodents that had been fed either alcohol or a placebo for eight days. They were then infected with pneumonia.
The results, published yesterday in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, showed that mice given alcohol before surgery suffered worse lung damage and produced higher levels of two types of immune system chemicals called cytokines, a sign that the immune system is working to fight a severe infection.
"The immune system of the alcohol-exposed mice tried in vain to fight off the infection and produced excessive amounts of [cytokines] in the process," said Spies. "The pneumonia was also more severe in the alcohol-exposed mice than in the animals that had only been exposed to the bacteria but not to the alcohol."
She added: "Patients who are considering surgery should definitely control their drinking habits in advance."
In any case, she urged people to be honest when questioned about their drinking habits when going for hospital treatment. "The information could be potentially life-saving, because knowing about the elevated risk the anaesthetist and the surgeon can take precautions."
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