Although there is a widely held belief that pain is the number 1 complaint in emergency medical care, few studies have actually assessed the prevalence of pain in the emergency department (ED). We conducted an analysis of secondary data by using explicit data abstraction rules to determine the prevalence of pain in the ED and to classify the location, origin, and duration of the pain. This retrospective cross-sectional study was conducted at an urban teaching hospital in Indianapolis, IN. Charts from 1,665 consecutive ED visits during a 7-day period were reviewed. Pain was defined as the word pain or a pain equivalent word (including aching, burning, and discomfort) recorded on the chart. Of the 1,665 visits, 61.2% had pain documented anywhere on the chart, 34.1% did not have pain, and 4.7% were procedures. Pain was a chief complaint for 52.2% of the visits. This high prevalence of pain has important implications for the allocation of resources as well as educational and research efforts in emergency medical care.
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