National epidemiology of cutaneous abscesses: 1996 to 2005

Am J Emerg Med. 2009 Mar;27(3):289-92. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2008.02.027.


Objective: Little has been reported regarding the national epidemiology of cutaneous abscesses. We examined the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS) national estimates of all emergency department (ED) visits from 1996 to 2005 to determine the trend and the epidemiology of ED abscess visits.

Study design: retrospective analysis of NHAMCS databases for 1996 to 2005 available from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Subjects: all patients with a first diagnosis of abscess based on the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification, diagnosis codes were selected for analysis.

Measures: estimated total numbers and percentages of patients by year.

Analysis: trends from 1996 through 2005 were examined overall and by demographic factors (eg, age, sex) and abscess characteristics (eg, body region affected). Linear regression was used to evaluate trends.

Results: Emergency department visits for abscesses more than doubled over the 10-year study period (1.2 million in 1996 to 3.28 million in 2005; trend, P < .01). The total number of ED visits increased from 90 million to 115 million over the same period, so that abscess visits are increasing faster than overall visits. Although the frequency of abscesses increased, the demographic and clinical characteristics of ED patients were unchanged over time. About half of ED patients with abscess were male, and about half were between the ages of 19 and 45 years. Annual admissions hovered around 12%. The most common abscess sites coded were the leg, ear, and "unspecified site." About 50% received antibiotics.

Conclusions: Emergency department visits for abscesses have shown a large increase since 1996; however, demographic and clinical factors are uniform across years.

MeSH terms

  • Abscess / epidemiology*
  • Abscess / microbiology
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Skin Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Skin Diseases / microbiology
  • United States / epidemiology