Surgery Riskier for Redheads? Evidence Slim

People With Red Hair May Feel More Pain, but There's Little Evidence of Excess Bleeding

By Daniel J. DeNoon
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Dec. 9, 2010 -- Redheads may feel pain more sharply, but the facts don't support their reputation for excessive bleeding during or after surgery.

That's the conclusion of four Welsh surgeons who searched the medical and anecdotal literature for evidence to support the belief that surgery poses extra problems for people with red hair.

"It would seem that the reputation of people with red hair for having increased [surgical] risk is without any basis in fact and should only be used as an excuse of last resort by surgeons," Andrew L. Cunningham of Morriston Hospital in Swansea, Wales, and colleagues conclude in the Christmas issue of BMJ.

Up to 2% of the world population and up to 6% of those in the Northern Hemisphere have red hair and fair skin. It's due to an inherited mutation that causes loss of function in the gene responsible for black-brown hair and skin color.

Redheads are at increased risk of skin cancer. There's also some evidence that they have a lower pain threshold and respond less well to anesthetics such as lidocaine.

Because red-haired people reportedly bruise more easily than others, it's been supposed that they are also more likely to bleed during or soon after surgery. But Cunningham and colleagues could find no evidence linking red hair to coagulation problems or bleeding tendencies.

There has also been a rumor that redheads are prone to hernias. For this the researchers found no basis in fact.

"Despite sporadic reports to the contrary, the clinical implications of red hair ... remain questionable," they conclude.

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SOURCE: Cunningham, A. BMJ, published online Dec. 10, 2010.

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