If you or a loved one has experienced a fall bad enough to land you in the emergency room, the cause may not be what you think. People are often quick to attribute falls, especially in the elderly, to issues such as loose items on the floor or bad eyesight. But there's actually another cause that's far more common than people realize. And recognizing its contribution to a fall can help ensure you get the care you need.
According to a study conducted at the Massachusetts General Hospital, falls often occur in conjunction with bloodstream, urinary, and respiratory infections. The study began after Farrin A. Manian, MD, MPH, a clinician educated in the Division of General Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and a visiting associate professor at Harvard Medical School, made an interesting observation. She said, "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. 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."
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It's hard to pinpoint just how many falls are a result of infections, but some studies estimate that the number ranges anywhere from 20% to 45%. That means there's a significant chance that if someone falls, they may also be sick. Falls often occur because infections can lead to low blood pressure, resulting in lightheadedness and dizziness. In people with dementia, infections can increase confusion and the likelihood of an associated fall.
For this particular study, the researchers examined 161 patients who experienced falls that necessitated an emergency room visit and were diagnosed with an infection. Of these, the infection was not even suspected at first in 41% of the patients. Some had more than one type of infection. In all, 71 had a urinary tract infection, 64 had a bloodstream infection, 37 had a respiratory infection, and 9 had an infection of a heart valve.
Common signs of infection are fever, rapid respiration rate, rapid heart rate, or abnormal white blood cell count. But over half
(56%) of the patients in the study demonstrated only one or none of these symptoms.
So if you or a loved one experiences a fall, make sure you consider whether an infection is at the root of it. Even if the fall isn't serious, the infection might be. Knowing the connection between the two can help you put together an effective treatment plan and know whether falls are something you need to be concerned about in the future.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD