British Medical Journal reports on the dreaded redheaded surgical patient
January 25, 2011
There’s an old saying, “If you want trouble, find yourself a redhead.” This is especially true among doctors who claim that redheaded surgical patients have excessive bleeding, a reduced pain threshold and an increased tendency to develop hernias. The British Medical Journal (BMJ) recently published results of a scientific literature survey that searched the terms “red hair,” “pain” and “surgery” to find out what, if anything
makes redheads unique surgical candidates. Time Magazine, December 2010, reports on this survey.
Redheads are a minority. They make up 2% to 6% of the population of the northern hemisphere and 1% to 2% worldwide. They are unique because of their genetic structure and the culprit is the melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R) protein, which causes pale skin, light eyes and sensitivity to ultraviolet light.
Redheads may need more than extra sunscreen; the survey showed that they may have different reactions to anesthesia, needing more lidocaine but less opiate-based analgesia.
Redheads were also more sensitive to the perception of pain from cold and heat than the control group. Time reports that “One study, which used heat-related pain as its litmus of overall sensitivity showed that redheads indeed felt things more acutely and unpleasantly, probably because the MC1R mutation releases a hormone that stimulates a brain receptor associated with pain regulation.”
In relation to hernias the study said “red hair may be associated with increased rates of hernia formation, but in all honesty it would be difficult to prove.” The belief that redheads are more susceptible to hemorrhages was not substantiated. When blood coagulation was measured in 50 women, half of whom were redheads, there was no difference in clotting between the redheads and the control group.
Although redheads may sometimes need more or less anesthesia, depending on what is being administered, redheads pose no greater operative risk than others. In so many words, BMJ advises physicians of the folly of using a patient’s red hair to explain problematic bleeding or recurrent hernias.
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