Is there an association between infections and falls?

Although the list of factors that lead to falls is long and varied, increasing number of reports have identified falls as a manifestation of infections, including Covid-19.1-4

A retrospective study involving over 1400 patients (mean age 72 years) admitted to the hospital for a fall or its complications found coexisting systemic infections (CSIs) in 21% of patients; 26% in those ≥75 years. Urinary tract infection accounted for 55% of CSIs, followed by pneumonia (36%), skin and soft tissue infections (7%), influenza/influenza-like illness (5%), bacteremia (5%), gastrointestinal infections (2%), and others. 1

Risk factors for CSI include preexisting symptoms (eg, weakness, dizziness), inability to get up on own, confusion, age ≥ 50 years and meeting the systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) criteria on presentation.1 Of note, CSI may not initially be suspected by providers in about one-third or more of the cases, with 15% of patients presenting with “mechanical fall” having a CSI.1,2  Fever or SIRS criteria (≥2) are absent in the majority of patients with CSI.1,2

More recently, reports of falls as a presenting feature of Covid-19 have also appeared in the lay press as well as the literature, with 1 study finding 24% of patients with Covid-19 seek care primarily because of syncope, near syncope, or a nonmechanical fall.3,4

Several factors may explain the association of infections with falls, including impairment of skeletal muscle function (eg, through cytokines, hypophosphatemia), poor oral intake and dehydration. 1 Perhaps that’s why inability to get up by one’s self from a fall in the absence of an obvious reason (eg, fracture) may be a clue to a CSI in patient presenting with a fall.

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that falls are a leading cause of injury and death, afflicting one-third of adults aged greater than 65 years each year?1

Disclosure: The author of this blog also was a coinvestigator in 2 cited studies (ref. 1 and 2)

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  1. Manian FA, Hsu F, Huang D, et al. Coexisting systemic infections in patients hospitalized because of a fall: prevalence and risk factors. J Emerg Med 2020;58:733-40.
  2. Blair A, Manian FA. Coexisting systemic infections in patients who present with a fall. Am J Med Sci 2017;353:22-26.
  3. Chen T, Hanna J, Walsh EE, et al. Syncope, near syncope, or nonmechanical falls as a presenting feature of COVID-19. Ann Emerg Med 2020 July;76:115-117.
  4. Norman RE, Stall NM, Sinha SK. Typically atypical: COVID-19 presenting as a fall in an older adult. J Am Geriatr Soc 2020 July;68:E36-37. DOI:10.1111/gs.16526

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

Is there an association between infections and falls?

2 thoughts on “Is there an association between infections and falls?

  1. Rebecca Berger says:

    Thanks for sharing this study Farrin! I have a question about your study that you cited. Did you require that patients have documentation of urinary symptoms in order to be diagnosed with a UTI, or did you rely on the provider’s diagnosis? I often see patients with fall + pyuria diagnosed with “UTI” even in the absence or urinary symptoms, which I suspect contributes to overdiagnosis of what is asymptomatic bacteriuria. I see that only about 50% of the patients with pyuria had a UTI diagnosis, so how did you classify? Thanks!

    1. FA Manian MD, MPH says:

      Great question, Rebecca! As this was a retrospective study, we defined infections based on providers’ clinical documentation of their impression plus use of antibiotics for the targeted infection as appropriate. For UTIs all had to be treated with antibiotics. Overall, 48% of patients with UTI had 1 or more preexisting symptoms documented in the notes (eg, weakness, fever, dysuria, polyuria etc…). Since many of our patient were older, typical symptoms might have not been present or obtainable (real world!). As you noted, many patients with pyuria were not diagnosed as UTI and were never treated for it. This suggests that although overdiagnosis of UTI could have certainly occurred in some cases, it was probably not rampant! We might have also missed many UTIs due to lack of urinalysis. Only a prospective study can really clarify how much overdiagnosis and underdiagnosis of UTI may be at play in patients presenting with a fall. Thanks for your interest!

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