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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- 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. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0736467920300214
- Blair A, Manian FA. Coexisting systemic infections in patients who present with a fall. Am J Med Sci 2017;353:22-26. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28104099/
- 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. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32591120/
- 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 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7267373/pdf/JGS-9999-na.pdf
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