Senior author Elizabeth J. Kovacs -- director of research of the Burn & Shock Trauma Institute of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, and director of Loyola's Alcohol Research Program -- and colleagues compared burn patients who were intoxicated above the legal limit with burn patients who had no alcohol in their blood.
Although the binge drinkers' injuries were much less severe than those of other patients admitted to Loyola's Burn Unit, the binge drinkers experienced similar rates of sepsis and pneumonia and spent similar amounts of time on the ventilator, in the intensive care unit and in the hospital.
First author Dr. Christopher S. Davis said there were three likely reasons why binge drinkers experienced such difficult recoveries, despite their comparatively minor injuries:
-- Intoxication weakens the immune system at a critical time, slowing the healing process and making patients more prone to infections.
-- While hospitalized, chronic alcohol abusers go through withdrawal.
-- Carbon monoxide poisoning levels in binge drinkers were more than four times higher than levels in
non-drinkers, probably because it took binge drinkers longer to escape fires. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause brain damage and other effects that complicate recovery.
The findings were presented at the 44th annual meeting of the American Burn Association in Seattle.