Women who binge drink may have more to worry about than embarrassing photos or a hangover headache the next morning.
So says a report released Thursday in the British Medical Journal, which documents three cases of bladder rupture in women who binge drank.
The condition is only very rarely associated with binge drinking, and even then British doctors had only seen it in men prior to this study.
Fortunately, in all of these cases, the women survived. But the very existence of these cases underscores a growing problem, noted lead study author Dr. Mohantha Dooldeniya and colleagues at the United Kingdom's Castlehill Hospital.
"We suggest that with the increase in alcohol consumption in women today, the complications previously seen only in men should now also be considered," the researchers noted in the article.
"Early recognition of this condition is crucial, as it does have considerable implications for survival as well as morbidity."
The Costs of Bingeing
The findings have special relevance in the United Kingdom, where recent reports have suggested that binge drinking among young women is on the rise.
According to the researchers, alcohol misuse costs the U.K.'s National Health Service up to £3 billion (about $6 billion) every year. They add that alcohol dependence, poisoning and other alcohol-related problems lead to more than 28,000 hospital admissions and 22,000 premature deaths each year.
Still, problem drinking is not unique to Europe. According to a 1998 study by the National Institutes of Health, the estimated economic cost of alcohol abuse in the United States was $148 billion per year.
And for women -- many of whom have caught up to their male counterparts in terms of alcohol consumption -- bingeing may carry special risks.
In 2002 researchers at the Alcohol Research Program at Stritch School of Medicine at Loyola University found that chronic alcohol consumption may disrupt female reproductive function and bone health.
How Binge Drinking Breaks Down a Bladder
But the possibility of bladder rupture is a new entry in the arena of considerations for women who binge drink.
Dr. Mitchell Bamberger, clinical associate professor of surgery at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and a specialist in female urology, said these case studies were the first he had seen with regard to bladder rupture in women due to binge drinking.
But he said that even though such cases are rare, the fact that they can occur should be taken very seriously.
"Urine, when it leaks out of the bladder, can cause infection within the abdominal cavity," he said. "If untreated, this infection could be life threatening."
Those who binge drink appear to be at special risk for this kind of complication.
"Alcohol consumption increases the volume of urine held within the bladder and dulls the senses such that the patient has a reduced urge to void despite the increased bladder volume," the study researchers wrote.
Bamberger agreed, adding that years of alcoholism can predispose someone to such problems by thinning the bladder wall.
"Alcoholics tend to have thin bladders," he said. "These people, when they are intoxicated, may not have a normal sensation to urinate when necessary."
Over time, he says, the repeated and constant strain can take a toll on the bladder, making its walls thinner and more likely to rupture -- even as a result of mild trauma.
Dangerous but Treatable
Though the condition is rare, those who believe they may have ruptured their bladder should contact a doctor immediately. Bamberger said severe infection generally occurs between 24 and 72 hours after a bladder rupture, so time is of the essence.
Bamberger added that symptoms of bladder rupture can include fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and either bloody urine or no urine production at all.
"I have seen some patients in which the injury was so severe that all the urine leaks out into the abdominal cavity, and the patient doesn't urinate," Bamberger recalled.
Treatment for the condition usually involves a course of antibiotics and surgery if necessary.