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Redheads Need More Anesthesia

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    NHNE News List Current Members: 720 Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message. ... STUDY: REDHEADS NEED MORE ANESTHESIA CNN Tuesday,
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      NHNE News List
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      Tuesday, October 15, 2002


      WASHINGTON (AP) -- The genetic quirk that makes red hair red may also make
      carrot-tops harder to knock out -- in the operating room, that is.

      A new study suggests people with naturally red hair need about 20 percent
      more anesthesia than patients with other hair colors.

      It's a small study that will need confirmation. But it marks the first time
      scientists have linked a visible genetic trait to anesthesia doses, said Dr.
      Daniel Sessler of the University of Louisville, whose study will be
      presented Tuesday at a meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

      Inadequate doses of general anesthesia can allow people to recall surgery,
      or even wake up during it, problems that occur in 1 percent of cases,
      Sessler said.

      "If redheads require more anesthesia and are not given more, their chances
      of having recall during surgeries increase," he said.

      Determining a patient is properly anesthetized is a partly an art:
      Physicians must watch for sometimes subtle signs of an underdose, like
      slight movements or sweating, as well as overdose warnings such as low blood
      pressure or heart rate. So knowing if a particular group of people is more
      likely to need a higher- or lower-than-standard dose could be very useful.

      Anesthesiologists have long grumbled that redheads can be a little harder to
      put under, but no one had ever studied if that was real or folklore, said
      Dr. Andrea Kurz of Washington University in St. Louis, who praised the new

      It's likely the first of many yet-to-be-discovered genetic factors that will
      allow anesthesia to be fine-tuned for increased safety, added Dr. James
      Cottrell, president of the anesthesiology society. "It's a very exciting

      But why would hair color possibly matter? The theory hinges on melanin, a
      pigment responsible for skin and hair color.

      The sun triggers a hormone that in turn triggers the production of melanin
      to form a tan. Redheads seldom tan easily because they have a defective
      receptor for that hormone -- a quirk with this "melanocortin-1 receptor"
      that also leaves their hair red. Without its intended receptor to dock in,
      the melanin-producing hormone may cross-react with a related receptor on
      brain cells that influences pain sensitivity, Sessler explained.

      That's still a theory. Here's what Sessler can say for certain: He and
      colleagues gave 10 healthy women with naturally red hair and 10 with dark
      hair the common inhaled anesthetic desflurane. Then they administered
      electric shocks -- not enough to do damage but enough to cause pain -- and
      inched the desflurane dose up or down according to the pain response until
      each patient was judged to be at the optimum anesthetic dose. The redheads
      required a 20 percent higher dose.

      Sessler said his lab first tested a few blondes and found they reacted the
      same as brunettes. That was expected since only redheads have the
      melanocortin-1 defect.

      The study doesn't address if men would react similarly -- there are gender
      differences for many drugs -- or if redheads would be similarly affected by
      non-inhaled types of anesthesia.

      Still, the research "gives us a window into what determines anesthetic
      requirements," said Sessler, whose lab is beginning more studies to see if
      the melanin theory is right.


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