Elderly emergency patients presenting with non-specific complaints: Characteristics and outcomes

Joyce J. H. Wachelder*, Patricia M. Stassen, Laura P. A. M. Hubens, Steffie H. A. Brouns, Suze L. E. Lambooij, Jeanne P. Dieleman, Harm R. Haak

*Corresponding author for this work

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Non-specific complaints (NSC) are common at the emergency department, but only a few studies have shown evidence that these complaints are associated with a poor prognosis in elderly emergency patients.


To describe patient characteristics and outcomes in a cohort of elderly emergency patients presenting with NSC. Outcomes were: patient characteristics, hospitalization, 90-day ED-return visits, and 30-day mortality.


A retrospective cohort study was conducted amongst elderly patients present to the Internal Medicine Emergency Department (ED) between 01-09-2010 and 31-08-2011. NSC were defined as indefinable complaints that lack a pre-differential diagnosis needed to initiate of a standardized patient evaluation. Cox regression was performed to calculate Hazard Ratios (HR) and corrected for confounders such as comorbidity.


In total, 1784 patients were enrolled; 244 (13.7%) presented with NSC. Compared to those with SC, comorbidity was higher in the NSC-group (Charlson comorbidity index 3.0 vs. 2.4, p<0.001). The triage level did not differ, but ED-length of stay was longer in the NSC-group (188 vs. 178 minutes, p = 0.004). Hospitalization was more frequent (84.0 vs. 71.1%, p<0.001) and the length of hospital stay (9 vs. 6 days, p<0.001 was longer in the NSC-than in the SC-group. The number of ED-return visits were comparable between both groups (HR 0.8, 95% CI 0.6-1.1). Mortality within 30-days was higher in the NSC-(20.1%) than in the SC-group (11.0%, HR 1.7 95% CI 1.2-2.4).


Elderly patients present with NSC at the ED regularly. These patients are more often hospitalized and have a substantially higher 30-day mortality than patients with SC.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0188954
Number of pages11
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2017


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