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Short patients are more likely to die in intensive care, and researchers don’t know why

Published Dec 27th, 2018 8:08PM EST
height mortality
Image: Nutteeraded

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If you end up in the intensive care unit of a hospital or clinic there’s a number of things that can affect your eventual outcome. How healthy you are, your age, and the conditions that you’re suffering from are all obvious factors, but a new study suggests that your height might actually play a role in whether you’re able to pull through or not.

New research published in Intensive Care Medicine suggests that taller patients tend to survive at a higher rate than shorter individuals. The study reaches a rather bold conclusion in that short stature may actually be a risk factor if you end up in the ICU.

The cohort study looked at over 400,000 cases from the UK in total, with 233,308 men and 184,070 women who passed through a hospital intensive care unit. After accounting for anything that could skew the data one way or another, the team crunched the numbers and discovered that shorter people die more often in the ICU by a significant margin.

“Hospital mortality decreased with increasing height; predicted mortality decreased from 24.1 to 17.1% for women and from 29.2 to 21.0% for men across the range of heights,” the study explains. Those are stunning numbers, but why would height affect health outcomes in such a drastic way?

“We can’t say for sure why this is happening,” Dr. Hannah Wunsh, co-author of the study, said in a statement. “It’s speculative that all the things we do to people might in some way be harmful to patients who are smaller.”

Wunsch also noted that the different mortality rates could be a result of various medical devices that can’t be customized for each patient. “Devices and tubes that are put into people” are usually one-size-fits-all items that could limit the effectiveness or even harm an individual who is too small for them.

It’s still early, and the study will need further verification and confirmation before ICU practices have any reason to change, but if the statistics hold up it might be time for hospitals to tweak things a bit.