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Patient Falls Linked to Infections

Infections are a major cause of falls in both the elderly and nonelderly

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital examined the records of 161 patients who were admitted to the emergency room because they fell and were subsequently diagnosed with a coexisting infection. The study found that urinary and respiratory infections were the most common reasons for infection-related falls.

Although falls were more common in the elderly, approximately 20% of patients in the study were less than 65 years of age.

According to Fierce Healthcare, urinary tract infections (UTIs) were the most common infections found among patients treated in emergency rooms for falls, according to the study.  About 44% of the 161 fall patients with infections had UTIs, while 40% had bloodstream infections, 23% had respiratory infections, and 5.6% had heart-valve infections.

Science Daily noted that it's unclear how many falls are caused by infection overall — other research puts the number between 20% and 45% — but it's clear that many people, including family members, caregivers, and even some health care providers, don't recognize the connection. People can fall because the infection may cause low blood pressure (and therefore lightheadedness and dizziness) or because it adds to confusion in older patients with dementia, according to the researchers.

"Over the years I've been struck by the fact that some of the more serious infections I treated were in people who came to the hospital because they fell," said lead researcher Farrin A. Manian, MD, a clinician educator in the Division of General Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and a visiting associate professor at Harvard Medical School. "Even though many of the patients had vague early signs of an infection, such as weakness or lethargy, it was the fall that brought them in."

The findings suggest that family members, care givers, and health care providers shouldn't rush to judgement about the cause of a fall, particularly in an older person, and should consider whether the person was ill or not feeling well before the incident happened to ensure the patient is diagnosed appropriately and can receive timely treatment.

Sources: Fierce Healthcare; October 12, 2015; Science Daily; October 9, 2015.

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