Increased Risk of Complications Following Surgery When Patient Drinks Heavily

There are many adverse consequences associated with heavy alcohol consumption. One result of heavy drinking is increased public health costs to treat injuries and other health problems stemming from alcohol use. Some health problems, such as injury and diseases from risky sexual behaviors have relatively immediate effects.

Other alcohol-related problems surface after years of heavy alcohol use, such as liver disease and certain types of cancers. Researchers are finding that even seemingly unrelated aspects of health can be affected by heavy alcohol use.

A study appearing in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons provides evidence that those who drink heavily may require longer hospital stays following a surgery.

The study, led by Anna D. Rubinsky, PhC, a researcher at Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle, Washington, showed that those who score high on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test-Consumption (AUDIT-C) had longer hospital stays following surgery and required more days staying in the intensive care unit (ICU). The same patients were more apt to require a trip back to the operating room (OR) within 30 days of their procedure.

The authors of the study believe that the findings could provide support for alcohol use screening preceding a surgery. This practice could help identify patients who are at an increased risk for additional postoperative services.

The AUDIT-C is a screening tool for alcohol use that includes three measures, with scores posting on a scale of 0 to 12 points. Higher scores reflect a heavier level of drinking and an increased risk of related health problems.

The study showed that those who scored between a 9 and 12 on the AUDIT-C were found to have increased levels of inpatient care required when compared with low-risk drinkers (those whose scores on the AUDIT-C were between one and four). The only measure in which these drinkers did not require additional care was in hospital readmissions.

Among men, those with higher AUDIT-C scores spend almost a full day longer in the hospital than those with lower scores, as well as spending 1.5 more days receiving care in the ICU. Males were twice as likely to require an additional surgery when compared with low-risk drinkers.

Rubinsky and colleagues explain that the study highlights a possible opportunity to use alcohol screening for identifying those who are at an increased risk for additional postoperative care. Utilizing preoperative alcohol screening can potentially decrease the costs of postoperative services and help patients successfully recover.

The study was conducted by researchers at the VA Health Services Research and Development and consulted data from AUDIT-C scores from up to one year before surgery. The scores were used to compare stays involving ICU inpatient care, a return to the OR and total postoperative days in the hospital.