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The Characteristics and Prevalence of Agitation in an Urban County Emergency Department

NCJ Number
Annals of Emergency Medicine Volume: 72 Issue: 4 Dated: October 2018 Pages: 361-370
Date Published
October 2018
10 pages

This study's objective was to determine the characteristics and prevalence of agitation among patients in an urban county emergency department (ED).


This was a prospective observational study of ED patients at an urban Level I trauma center. All ED patients were screened during daily randomized 8-hour enrollment periods. Adult agitated patients, defined as having an altered mental status score greater than 1, were included. Trained research volunteers collected demographics and baseline data, including the presenting altered mental status score, use and type of restraints, and whether any initial sedative was given. The altered mental status score, vital signs, and any medications or treatments given were recorded every 5 minutes thereafter until the patient had an altered mental status score less than 1. Providers were asked to describe clinical events resulting in an intervention during the patient's course, including hypotension, vomiting, increased monitoring, use of supplemental oxygen or airway adjunct, or intubation. The provider also completed a checklist to determine the presence of delirium symptoms. A total of 43,838 patients were screened (45.1 percent women; median age 33 years; range 0 to 102 years). The prevalence of agitation was 2.6 percent (1,146/43,838; median altered mental status score 2). Of these patients, 84 percent (969/1,146) required physical restraint, and 72 percent (829/1,146) required sedation with an intramuscular injection. Sedative agents were olanzapine in 39 percent of patients (442/1,146), droperidol in 20 percent (224/1,146), haloperidol in 20 percent (226/1,146), a benzodiazepine in 6 percent (68/1,146), and ketamine in 5 percent (52/1,146). Delirium characteristics were observed in 0.6 percent of patients (260/43,838), representing 23 percent of agitated patients in the ED. Clinical events were observed in 13 percent of agitated patients (114/866) without delirium symptoms and 26 percent (68/260) with delirium symptoms. Characteristics associated with a clinical event included delirium symptoms (odds ratio [OR] 1.6; 95 percent confidence interval [CI] 1.2 to 2.4), a cause related to a drug other than alcohol (OR 1.7; 95 percent CI 1.1 to 2.9), or a nondrug-induced cause of agitation (OR 3.5; 95 percent CI 2.3 to 5.6). The overall conclusion is that the prevalence of agitation in the ED was 2.6 percent, and agitated patients frequently required restraint and sedation, with significant rates of clinical events requiring intervention. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: October 1, 2018