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The impact of opioid medications on subsequent fractures in discharged emergency department patients with peripheral vertigo


Background — Vertigo is common in the emergency department (ED). Most aetiologies are peripheral and do not require hospitalization, but many patients still fear falling. Some patients may be taking opioid analgesic medications (for other reasons); the risk of falls leading to fractures among patients with vertigo could be potentiated by the simultaneous use of opioids.

Objectives — To examine the risk of fractures in discharged ED patients with peripheral vertigo who were being prescribed opioids during the same time period.

Methods — Linked administrative databases from Ontario were used to compare discharged ED patients aged ≥65 with peripheral vertigo to patients with urinary tract infection (UTI) from 2006 to 2011. We used Cox regression analysis with an interaction term to estimate the modifying effect of an opioid prescription on the hazard of fracture within 90 days.

Results — There were 13,012 patients with a peripheral vertigo syndrome and 76,885 with a UTI. Thirteen percent of the vertigo cohort and 25% of the UTI cohort had access to a filled opioid prescription. Compared to vertigo patients who did not fill an opioid prescription, the adjusted hazard of fracture among vertigo patients who did fill a prescription was 3.59 (95% CI 1.97-6.13). Among UTI patients who filled an opioid prescription the hazard ratio was 1.68 (95% CI 1.43-1.97) compared to UTI patients who did not.

Conclusions — Patients discharged from the ED with peripheral vertigo who were also being prescribed opioids had a higher hazard of subsequent fracture compared to those who were not, and the effect was much greater than among UTI patients. These results suggest that in the acutely vertiginous older patient, opioid analgesic medications should be modified, where possible.



Grewal K, Austin PC, Kapral MK, Lu H, Atzema CL. CJEM. 2018; 20(1):28-35. Epub 2017 Jun 20.

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