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Should Surgeons Postpone Procedures for Heavy Drinkers?

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, March 23, 2012

Surgeons could reduce length of hospital stay, time in the ICU, or the likelihood of a repeat operation if they postpone procedures for patients who consume lots of alcohol to give them time to stop.

That's the suggestion from a new study of 5,171 male patients of the Veterans Affairs healthcare system published in the March issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. The reportindicates that patients who drink four or more glasses of alcohol a day have significantly higher post-surgical complication rates than those who drink moderately or not at all.

But getting heavy drinkers to stop for just 30 days reduces that complication risk substantially, the authors say.

"Among 1,000 male VA surgical patients who screen positive for alcohol misuse in the year before surgery...an estimated 118 will experience post-operative complications and approximately 110 will return to the operating room within 30 days of surgery," says Anna Rubinsky, a researcher at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle and the paper's lead author.

High-risk drinkers "on average spent nearly a day longer in the hospital, had 1.5 more ICU days, and were twice as likely to return to the operating room compared with low-risk drinkers" after adjusting for sociodemographic variables, smoking, and surgical category, said her report.

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