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Chest pain is a leading reason for hospital emergency department visits

Chest pain that does not appear to be a heart attack when examined in hospital emergency departments accounted for 1.6 million visits in 23 States in 2005. About one-fifth of the cases—345,000 people—were admitted to hospitals for observation or treatment.

"Nonspecific" chest pain was the fourth most common cause of emergency visits, after sprains and strains (2.4 million visits), bruises and other superficial injuries (2.0 million), and abdominal pain (1.7 million). In each of those categories, however, less than 5 percent of patients were admitted to hospitals.

Additional highlights of the analysis show that:

  • Rates of emergency department visits were nearly 2 times higher among persons from the poorest communities compared with those from the wealthiest communities (about 481 per 1,000 persons vs. 261 per 1,000 persons).
  • Five additional conditions prompted at least 1 million emergency visits: back problems (1.4 million), leg and arm open wounds (1.3 million); headaches, including migraines (1.2 million); nose and throat infections, such as sinusitis and strep throat (1.1 million); and skin infections and urinary tract infections (1.0 million each). Of these, urinary tract infections were most likely to require hospitalization (18 percent).
  • Among emergency department visits that resulted in hospitalization, pneumonia topped the list of reasons for the visit. Two-thirds of the 669,500 people who came to emergency rooms were admitted.
  • The chances of being admitted were smaller for uninsured patients (roughly 7 percent were admitted) than patients with private insurance or Medicaid (about 14 percent each) or Medicare (nearly 40 percent). Patients who were uninsured accounted for about 18 percent of hospital emergency department visits.

This summary is based on data in Emergency Department Visits for Adults in Community Hospitals from Selected States, 2005. The report uses statistics from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project State Emergency Department Databases and State Inpatient Databases, which contain statistics from 23 States. For more information, go to http://www.ahrq.gov/data/hcup/.

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