A descriptive analysis of 1251 solid organ transplant visits to the emergency department

West J Emerg Med. 2009 Feb;10(1):48-54.


Background: As solid organ transplants become more common, recipients present more frequently to the emergency department (ED) for care.

Methods: We performed a retrospective medical record review of ED visits of all patients who received an organ transplant at our medical center from 2000-2004, and included all visits following the patients' transplant surgery through December 2005 or until failed graft, lost to follow up, or death. Clinically relevant demographic variables, confounding and outcome variables were recorded. Kidney, liver and combined kidney with other organ transplant recipients were included.

Results: Five hundred ninety-three patients received kidney (395), liver (161), or combined renal (37) organ transplants during the study period, resulting in 1,251 ED visits. This represents 3.15 ED visits/patient followed over a mean of 30.8 months. Abdominal pain/gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms (31.3%) and infectious complaints (16.7%) were the most common presentations. The most common ED discharge diagnoses were fever/infection (36%), GI/Genitourinary (GU) pathology (20.4%) and dehydration (15%). Renal transplant recipients were diagnosed with infectious processes most often, despite time elapsed from transplant. Liver transplant patients had diagnoses of fever/infection most often in their first 30 days post transplant. Thereafter they were more likely to develop GI/GU pathology. After the first year of transplantation, cardiopulmonary and musculoskeletal pathology become more common in all transplant organ groups. Of the 1,251 ED visits, 762 (60.9%) resulted in hospitalization. Chief complaints of abdominal pain/GI symptoms, infectious complaints, cardiovascular and neurologic symptoms, and abnormal laboratory studies were significantly likely to result in hospitalization.

Conclusions: This study demonstrates a significant utilization of the ED by transplant recipients, presenting with a wide variety of symptoms and diagnoses, and with a high hospitalization rate. As the transplant-recipient population grows, these complex patients continue to present diagnostic and treatment challenges to primary care and emergency physicians.