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Ginger Thursday: Doctors Be Warned

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Several weeks ago I claimed that I would be doing regular “Ginger Thursday” posts, and then failed to do so owing to my wedding, the planning of which took up all of my blogging time. Now that I am happily married and back home from the chaos, I would like to being my installments.

This week I would like to discuss the unique genetic makeup of red heads (MC1R genotype mutation individuals) as it pertains to surgery. Several years ago when I went in to get my one and only wisdom tooth removed, the young oral surgeon fresh out of medical school warned me that red heads have been shown to react differently to the anesthesia required to knock us out for the surgery. He told me that red heads tend to wake up earlier than normal or later than normal. I had never heard this before, but since he had obviously come straight from learning the most up to date medical knowledge I figured I’d trust him on it. I ended up waking up a little later than normal.

When writing a report on the genetics of red heads for an anthropology class, I looked into just this phenomenon. One study showed that red-haired women required 19% more desflurane (used to maintain general anesthesia) than women with dark hair to suppress movement in reaction to electrical stimuli. However, it is unclear what part the MC1R mutation plays in anesthetic requirements as the central nervous system is not a site which is majorly affected by the mutation. When Liem et al. published their first paper on pain sensitivity and anesthesia in redheads, they received over a hundred responses from redheads “who claimed that anesthesia often failed or that unusually large doses of local anesthetics were required to achieve adequate analgesia.” This to me is statistically significant because the reports received are from individuals who have not participated in a study and who had noticed in their daily lives that there were abnormalities in potentially harmful circumstances such as being put under general anesthesia during surgery. Several studies have been published which are attempting to bring this knowledge to the forefront of current medical research and practice so that redheads are in less danger of being undermedicated when it comes to pain and anesthesia.

While I know this is a mouthful, I wanted to put it out there so that red heads like myself can be prepared for inadequate dosages of anesthetic during surgeries which can result in greater recall of surgery as well as potentially waking up in the middle of one.  The American Dental Association is trying to push this sort of understanding into common practice so that red heads will not have to suffer any more than everyone else when going in for dental surgery. We have a generally lower pain tolerance and a generally increased tolerance to pain killers; a nasty combination.

So now that I’ve dumped a load of discomfort and statistics on you, here’s a lovely picture of one of my favorite red heads: Felicia Day.


One response »

  1. I had no idea about any of this, but in addition to this post I read an article about Brave recently that talked about this a little along with the stereotypes of redheads. That’s crazy!


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