Intervention at the Level of the Neuroendocrine-Immune Axis and Postoperative Pneumonia Rate in Long-term Alcoholics

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Abstract

Rationale:

Postoperative pneumonia is three to four times more frequent in patients with alcohol use disorders followed by prolonged intensive care unit (ICU) stay. Long-term alcohol use leads to an altered perioperative hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and immunity.

Objectives:

The aim of this study was to evaluate HPA intervention with low-dose ethanol, morphine, or ketoconazole on the neuroendocrine-immune axis and development of postoperative pneumonia in long-term alcoholic patients.

Methods:

In this randomized, double-blind controlled study, 122 consecutive patients undergoing elective surgery for aerodigestive tract cancer were included. Long-term alcohol use was defined as consuming at least 60 g of ethanol daily and fulfilling the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV criteria for either alcohol abuse or dependence. Nonalcoholic patients were included but only as a descriptive control. Perioperative intervention with low-dose ethanol (0.5 g/kg body weight per day), morphine (15 μg/kg body weight per hour), ketoconazole (200 mg four times daily), and placebo was started on the morning before surgery and continued for 3 d after surgery. Blood samples to analyze the neuroendocrine-immune axis were obtained on the morning before intervention and on Days 1, 3, and 7 after surgery.

Measurements and Main Results:

In long-term alcoholic patients, all interventions decreased postoperative hypercortisolism and prevented impairment of the cytotoxic T-lymphocyte type 1:type 2 ratio. All interventions decreased the pneumonia rate from 39% to a median of 5.7% and shortened intensive care unit stay by 9 d (median) compared with the placebo-treated long-term alcoholic patients.

Conclusions:

Intervention at the level of the HPA axis altered the immune response to surgical stress. This resulted in decreased postoperative pneumonia rates and shortened intensive care unit stay in long-term alcoholic patients.

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