Author(s): Helling TS, Watkins M, Evans LL, Nelson PW, Shook JW,
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Abstract OBJECTIVE: This is a retrospective study designed to evaluate the pattern and severity of injuries that result from low falls, defined as falls from less than 20 ft, subsequent mortality, and requirements of hospital resources. Our hypothesis is that many of these injuries, even without cardiopulmonary instability, are worthy of trauma center care. METHODS: The records of all patients entered into the hospital trauma registry at an urban Level I trauma center during the years 1991 through 1997 who suffered low falls and who either died after admission or were hospitalized for at least 3 days were reviewed. Patients suffering isolated hip fractures were excluded. One hundred seventy-six patients constituted the study population. This group accounts for about 2\% of all admissions for falls at our institution. Patterns of injury were examined. Age, mechanism of injury, Injury Severity Score (ISS), and cardiopulmonary or neurologic instability on admission were documented. Mortality, length of intensive care unit and hospital stays, as well as billed hospital charges, were reviewed. RESULTS: The majority of patients (62\%) were younger than 50 years. Sixty patients had ISS >15 and 116 patients had ISS >9. Sixty patients had multisystem injuries requiring specialty care. Head injuries were found in 81 patients (35\%), and vertebral fractures or spinal cord injuries were found in 49 patients (22\%), including 9 quadriplegics and 5 paraplegics. There were seven patients with intra-abdominal injuries (five spleen and two bowel injuries). There was one patient with a rupture of the thoracic aorta. Seventeen patients had deteriorating neurologic or pulmonary function on arrival, but the majority (90\%) were stable. Of the 159 "stable" patients, 48 suffered head injuries, 7 were quadriplegic, and 3 were paraplegic. All intra-abdominal injuries were in this group. Overall, 14 of 176 patients (8\%) died. Seven deaths were in patients older than 60 years, and seven deaths were in younger patients (p = 0.04). The majority of deaths (9 of 14) were from head trauma. Care in the intensive care unit was required in 92 of 176 patients. Nine patients had billed charges exceeding $100,000. CONCLUSION: Low falls can cause significant injuries, most commonly to the head and spine. Based on mechanism of injury alone, patients injured in low falls might not be taken to trauma centers. We have found, however, that many of these patients sustain serious multisystem injuries, even though they are stable initially. Although these patients represent only a fraction of those who fall, our study would support adjustment of triage guidelines to recommend transport of such patients, particularly elderly patients, to trauma centers.
This article was published in J Trauma
and referenced in Journal of Gerontology & Geriatric Research