Objective: A chronic alcoholic group following trauma was investigated to determine whether their ICU stay was longer than that of a non-alcoholic group and whether their intercurrent complication rate was increased.
Design: Prospective study.
Setting: An intensive care unit.
Patients: A total of 102 polytraumatized patients were transferred to the ICU after admission to the emergency room and after surgical treatment. Of these patients 69 were chronic alcoholics and 33 were allocated to the non-alcoholic group. The chronic-alcoholic group. met the DSM-III-R and ICD-10 criteria for alcohol dependence or chronic alcohol abuse/harmful use. The daily ethanol intake in these patients was > or = 60 g. Diagnostic indicators included an alcoholism-related questionnaire (CAGE), conventional laboratory markers and carbohydrate-deficient transferrin.
Measurement and results: Major intercurrent complications such as alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS), pneumonia, cardiac complications and bleeding disorders were documented and defined according to internationally accepted criteria. Patients did not differ significantly between groups regarding age, TRISS and APACHE score on admission. The rate of major intercurrent complications was 196% in the chronic alcoholic vs 70% in the non-alcoholic group (p = 0.0001). Because of the increased intercurrent complication rate, the ICU stay was significantly prolonged in the chronic-alcoholic group by a median period of 9 days.
Conclusions: Chronic alcoholics are reported to have an increased risk of morbidity and mortality. However, to our knowledge, nothing is known about the morbidity and mortality of chronic alcoholics in intensive care units following trauma. Since chronic alcoholics in the ICU develop more major complications with a significantly prolonged ICU stay following trauma than non-alcoholics, it seems reasonable to intensify research to identify chronic alcoholics and to prevent alcohol-related complications.