Secondary Logo

Journal Logo

Institutional members access full text with Ovid®

The prevalence of unexplained falls and syncope in older adults presenting to an Irish urban emergency department

Bhangu, Jaspreeta; Hall, Patriciaa; Devaney, Naomia; Bennett, Kathleenc; Carroll, Lauraa; Kenny, Rose-Annea; McMahon, C. Geraldineb

European Journal of Emergency Medicine: April 2019 - Volume 26 - Issue 2 - p 100–104
doi: 10.1097/MEJ.0000000000000548

Aim There is growing evidence of an overlap between unexplained falls and syncope in older adults. Our aim was to examine the prevalence and associated resource utilization of these conditions in an urban emergency department (ED).

Patients and methods A single-centre, prospective, observational study was carried out over a 6-month period. Consecutive patients older than 50 years who presented to the ED because of a fall, collapse or syncope were included. Univariate analysis of demographic data is presented as percentages, mean (SD), 95% confidence intervals (CIs) and medians (interquartile range). Logistic regression modelling was used to examine the association between falls and resource utilization.

Results A total of 561 patients fulfilled the inclusion criteria during the study period. Unexplained fallers accounted for 14.3% (n=80; 95% CI: 13.3–15.3) and syncope for 12.7% (n=71; 95% CI: 11.7–13.6) of all fall presentations. Overall, 50% (n=282; 95% CI: 48.20–52.34) of patients required admission to hospital. Patients with syncope [odds ratio (OR)=2.48, 95% CI: 1.45–4.23], and unexplained falls (OR=2.36, 95% CI: 1.37–4.08) were more likely to require admission than those with an explained falls. Unexplained fallers were nearly five times more likely to suffer recurrent falls (OR=4.97, 95% CI: 2.89–8.56).

Conclusion One in four older fallers presenting to ED have symptoms suggestive of syncope or an unexplained fall. There are significant biological consequences of recurrent falls including greater rates of cognitive decline, gait and mobility disturbances, depression and frailty. Recognition that syncope can present as an unexplained fall in older adults is important to ensure that appropriate early modifiable interventions are initiated.

aDepartment of Medical Gerontology, Trinity Centre for Health Sciences

bDepartment of Emergency Medicine, St James’s Hospital

cRCSI Population and Health Sciences, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dublin, Ireland

Correspondence to Jaspreet Bhangu, MD, Department of Medical Gerontology, Old Stone Building, Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, St James’s Hospital, James’s Street, Dublin 8, Ireland Tel: +353 1 896 3555; fax: +353 1 896 3407; e-mail:

Received April 14, 2017

Accepted November 19, 2017

Copyright © 2019 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.