Alcohol Use Frequently Overlooked Before Surgery

WEDNESDAY July 23, 2008 -- Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) are frequently overlooked in patients undergoing surgery, say German researchers who studied 1,556 surgical patients.

"First, we noted that AUD is not diagnosed adequately during preoperative assessment. Then, even if a finding of AUD was made before surgery, preventive measures were not often undertaken. This is significant, because patients with AUD have three to four times more complications during and around the time of surgery than patients without AUD," study author Dr. Claudia D. Spies said in a news release issued by the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

When AUD is properly identified, doctors can begin intervention strategies.

Spies and colleagues found that most doctors didn't use well-documented tools for AUD detections, perhaps because the doctors were uncomfortable asking patients about their alcohol consumption.

"Physicians tend to underestimate and miss AUD in younger patients, especially young female patients," Spies said. "Our results emphasize that the use of computer-based screening methods ... applied to every patient, are effective in addressing these biases."

The researchers found that when a computerized self-assessment tool called AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test) was used, more than twice as many patients with AUD were identified compared to when doctors used the standard preoperative interview.

This may be due to the fact that many doctors lack training in preoperative screening for alcohol use and that patients prefer the more anonymous nature of the computerized self-test.

"Patients seem to be more confident in answering questions about their alcohol use in a computer-based question-and-answer format," Spies said.

The study was published in the current issue of Anesthesiology.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about alcohol use disorders.

Posted: July 2008


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