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Alcohol Abuse and Acute Lung Injury: Epidemiology and Pathophysiology of a Recently Recognized Association
  1. David M. Guidot,
  2. Michael C. Hart
  1. From the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine (D.M.G., C.M.H.), Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Veterans Affairs Research Service.
  1. Address correspondence to: Dr. David M. Guidot, Atlanta VAMC (151-P), 1670 Clairmont Road, Decatur, GA 30033; tel: 404-321-6111 ext 6935; fax: 404-728-7750; e-mail: dguidot{at}


ABSTRACT Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug in the United States. The deleterious health effects of alcohol can be attributed both to its acute intoxicating effects, which result in temporary impairment of judgment and motor skills, and to its more chronic and toxic effects on the liver, pancreas, heart, and brain, all of which may result in irreversible organ damage. Although recognized for more than a century as a major risk factor for pneumonia, alcohol abuse was until recently perceived to have no significant effects on lung structure and/or function. However, within the past decade, epidemiologic studies have revealed that alcohol abuse independently increases the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) two- to fourfold in patients with sepsis or trauma and may play a role in ARDS pathogenesis in as many as half of all patients with the syndrome. Although alcohol abuse alone does not cause acute lung injury, it renders the lung susceptible to dysfunction in response to the inflammatory stresses of sepsis, trauma, and other clinical conditions recognized to cause ARDS. Recent investigations in both animal models of chronic ethanol ingestion and in human subjects with a history of alcohol abuse have explored this previously unrecognized connection between alcohol and acute lung injury and have uncovered multiple derangements, which we now characterize as the “alcoholic lung.” This review summarizes the epidemiologic association between alcohol abuse and acute lung injury and the recent experimental findings that are unraveling the underlying pathophysiology.

Key Words
  • acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • sepsis
  • alveolar epithelium
  • glutathione
  • surfactant

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