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Abdominal pain in geriatric emergency patients: variables associated with adverse outcomes.

OBJECTIVE: To determine the diagnoses and outcomes of geriatric patients with abdominal pain, and to identify variables associated with adverse outcomes.

METHODS: Geriatric emergency patients (aged 65 years and older) with a complaint of abdominal pain were participants in this longitudinal case series. Eligible patients were followed by telephone contact and chart review, to determine outcomes and final diagnoses.

RESULTS: Of 380 eligible patients, follow-up information was available for 375 (97%), for the two months following the ED visit. Final diagnoses included infection (19.2%), mechanical-obstructive disorders (15.7%), ulcers/hypersecretory states (7.7%), urinary tract disease (7.7%), malignancy (7.2%), and others. Although 5.3% of the patients died (related to presenting condition), most (61.3%) patients ultimately recovered. Surgical intervention was required for 22.1% of the patients. Variables associated with adverse outcomes (death, and need for surgical intervention) included hypotension, abnormalities on abdominal radiography, leukocytosis, abnormal bowel sounds, and advanced age. Most physical examination findings were not helpful in identifying patients with adverse outcomes. This study demonstrated a higher incidence of malignancy (7.2%) and a lower incidence of disease necessitating surgical intervention (22.1%) than previously reported.

CONCLUSIONS: The majority of geriatric emergency patients with abdominal pain have significant disease necessitating hospital admission. Morbidity and mortality among these patients are high, and specific variables are strongly associated with death and the need for surgical intervention. Absence of these variables does not preclude significant disease. Physical examination findings cannot reliably predict or exclude significant disease. These patients should be strongly considered for hospital admission, particularly when fever, hypotension, leukocytosis, or abnormal bowel sounds are present.

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