Exposing the bidirectional effects of alcohol on coagulation in trauma: Impaired clot formation and decreased fibrinolysis in rotational thromboelastometry

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Abstract

BACKGROUND

Alcohol has been associated with altered viscoelastic testing in trauma, indicative of impaired coagulation. Such alterations, however, show no correlation to coagulopathy-related outcomes. Other data suggest that alcohol may inhibit fibrinolysis. We sought to clarify these mechanisms after traumatic injury using thromboelastometry (ROTEM), hypothesizing that alcohol-related clot formation impairment may be counter-balanced by inhibited fibrinolysis.

METHODS

Laboratory, demographic, clinical, and outcome data were prospectively collected from 406 critically injured trauma patients at a Level I trauma center. ROTEM and standard coagulation measures were conducted in parallel. Univariate comparisons were performed by alcohol level (EtOH), with subsequent regression analysis.

RESULTS

Among 274 (58%) patients with detectable EtOH, median EtOH was 229 mg/dL. These patients were primarily bluntly injured and had lower GCS (p < 0.05) than EtOH-negative patients, but had similar admission pH and injury severity (p = NS). EtOH-positive patients had prolonged ROTEM clotting time and rate of clot formation time (CFT/α); they also had decreased fibrinolysis (max lysis %; all p < 0.05). In linear regression, for every 100 mg/dL increase in EtOH, clotting time increased by 13 seconds and fibrinolysis decreased by 1.5% (both p < 0.05). However, EtOH was not an independent predictor of transfusion requirements or mortality. In high-EtOH patients with coagulopathic ROTEM tracings, transfusion rates were significantly lower than expected, relative to EtOH-negative patients with similar ROTEM findings.

CONCLUSION

As assayed by ROTEM, alcohol appears to have a bidirectional effect on coagulation in trauma, both impairing initial clot formation and inhibiting fibrinolysis. This balancing of mechanisms may explain lack of correlation between altered ROTEM and coagulopathy-related outcomes. Viscoelastic testing should be used with caution in intoxicated trauma patients.

Level of Evidence

Epidemiological study, level III.

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