Aug 23, 2013 8:00 AM

Author: Melinda Rogers


Infographic listing the top 10 reasons college students end up in the ER

AUDIO: From alcohol poisoning to rushing the field at football games, emergency room physician Troy Madsen, MD, recaps the top 8 reasons he sees college students come in to the E.R.

Ah, college.  The days of philosophizing about English literature, toiling away in the chemistry lab and meeting new friends while determining how to configure an Xbox and two TVs in one tiny dorm room.

Pursuing a higher education is intertwined with students’ journey to finding different ways of thinking and expanded horizons. For many students, college brings plenty of adventures outside of academics —like hitting up a toga party a la Animal House, deciding to longboard to a pizza shop at 2 a.m. for a late night study snack, or finding a place in The Muss to cheer on the beloved Utes football team every Saturday.

No one ever thinks a trip to the ER will be in their future, especially college students relishing in new experiences. But it’s inevitable that students —maybe even YOU—will end up sitting in an exam room as a result of an unfortunate decision or mishap. Here’s a look at the top 10 reasons University of Utah students end up spending time in the hospital:

1) Alcohol Poisoning

Yes, the legal drinking age is 21. Yet underage drinking is an issue at many colleges across the country, with alcohol poisoning a common result of binge drinking.

Alcohol poisoning is a serious — and sometimes deadly — consequence of drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Drinking too much too fast can affect your breathing, heart rate, body temperature and gag reflex. And this behavior can at times lead to coma and death.

Besides alcohol poisoning, partying too much inhibits students’ ability to do well in school. Believe it or not, it does matter when you miss Monday biology class because you’re too hung-over. You worked hard to get into college, so why waste your talent (and tuition money) by not giving it your best when it comes to your education?

From a more serious standpoint, there are unintended consequences from drinking too much that can be life altering. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism within the National Institutes of Health, thousands of accidents, sexual assaults and other episodes of poor decision making happen when students get drunk. Some startling national statistics on college students and drinking from the NIH:

  • Death:  1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes.
  • Injury:  599,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol.
  • Assault:  696,000 students between the ages of 1 8 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
  • Sexual Abuse:  97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
  • Unsafe Sex: 400,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 had unprotected sex and more than 100,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex.
  • Academic Problems: About 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of their drinking including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.

Those stats may seem like a buzz kill —and they should be. Remember to be safe and smart when you’re drinking alcohol.

2) Drug Abuse

Most college students didn’t escape childhood without hearing some sort of “Just Say No To Drugs” mantra. Still, many students see the allure of new freedom in college as a license to try drugs that are harmful to their health.

One of the most common examples of drug abuse in today’s student population is the sharing of prescription drugs. Students may think that because these drugs are prescribed by a doctor, they’re not as dangerous as using a drug like heroin or cocaine. But OxyContin, Lortab and other commonly abused prescription drugs can be equally addicting and can have the same deadly consequences as street drugs. Don’t share them. Don’t use them without a legitimate medical purpose.

Need more reasons to avoid prescription drugs? Try these:
Drug overdose deaths among teens aged 15 to 19 are up 91 percent in the past decade. The vast majority of these deaths are because every day, 2,000 teens in this country are using prescription drugs for the first time for the sole purpose of getting high, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2009, more people in the United States died from drug overdoses than from automobile accidents —and this trend has continued in recent years as well. The CDC reports that one person dies every 19 minutes from a drug overdose in the United States, a trend driven by prescription painkillers.
In 2003, prescription drug overdose deaths in Utah outnumbered non-prescription drug overdose deaths, according to the Utah Pharmaceutical Drug Abuse Brief of February 2012. In 2006, more Utah residents died from prescription drug overdoses than from car crashes. In 2010, prescription drugs were involved in 80 percent of all overdose deaths in Utah.
What seems like a harmless and fun way to liven up your night could put you down a path you don’t want to be on. So think before you pop —or share—that pill.

3) A Mess in The MUSS

There’s nothing better than a PAC-12 football win, and of course, it’s always fun to celebrate the Utes’ usual trouncing of that school that wears blue and white down in Provo. Believe it or not, many ER visits come from students injured at Ute games who’ve been mowed down by classmates rushing the football field after a big win. Students trying to rush the field have also flipped over guardrails, breaking an arm or leg in the process.  So the next time you’re getting ready to celebrate an epic win, be careful!

4) STDs

Everyone knows that Utah is a conservative state, which leads to assumptions that transmitted diseases aren’t as common of a problem here compared to other parts of the country. Unfortunately, that’s not totally the case.

The Utah Department of Health reported last spring that cases of some STDs increased dramatically from 2012 to 2013. Specifically, cases of gonorrhea rose an estimated 74 percent, and syphilis nearly doubled last year, according to the state's Bureau of Communicable Disease Control. All STD cases reported grew approximately 11 percent from 2012 to 2013, the department found in its annual report.

STDs aren’t limited to a certain age, ethnic group, religious group or gender. They affect everyone —which is why you shouldn’t assume an STD could never happen to you.

Your sexual health is an important issue that you must think critically about now that you’re on your own. Take the time to have an honest conversation with a health care provider about your sexual practices —and what you can do to be safe and healthy (both physically and emotionally).  The University of Utah’s Center for Student Wellness offers a wealth of resources on sexual health, and more information.

5) Longboarding Accidents

Does falling off a skateboard happen frequently enough that it qualifies as a top 10 college injury?

You bet. This injury brings students into University Hospital’s ER regularly, and it shouldn’t come as a total shock if you’ve had to dodge a classmate speeding to a lecture going 30 MPH on the campus sidewalks (hey, there’s a reason the Board of Trustees debated banning longboards on campus, right?).

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons states the most common longboarding injuries often involve the wrist, ankle or face. Many injuries happen when you lose your balance, fall off the board and land on an outstretched arm. Other injuries that we see in the ER include:

  • Injuries to the arms, legs, neck and trunk range from bruises and abrasions to sprains and strains, fractures and dislocations. Wrist fractures are quite common. Wearing wrist guards can reduce their frequency and severity.
  • Facial injuries include breaking your nose and jawbone
  • Severe injuries include concussion, closed head injury and blunt head trauma.
  • You can suffer permanent impairment or even death if you fall off the skateboard and strike your head without a helmet. Most brain injuries happen when your head hits pavement. You are most at risk if you skateboard near traffic and collide with motor vehicles, bikes, pedestrians or other obstacles.

Longboarding can be a great way to get to class, but remember to keep safety in mind. While it may be patently uncool, think about the benefits of wearing safety equipment (i.e. a helmet) the next time you’re barreling down a sidewalk because you’re late for class.

6) Food Poisoning

Most of us did it in college, so we can’t blame you: Sneaking food out of the dorm cafeteria to have a snack later. Digging in to the 3-day-old pizza at 3 a.m. when you need a pick-me-up during your cram session. Helping yourself to the egg salad your roommate’s mom brought for you guys last week (or was it last month?).

But since we all did it, we can also tell you that it’s a really bad idea.  All sorts of students arrive in the ER with symptoms of food poisoning, and they all report having ingested some questionable substance that they thought was safe enough to eat.

Food can be tough to come by when you’re a college student. But avoiding a night in the ER connected to an IV replenishing fluids will make you rethink scarfing down that leftover burrito from last week.

And by the way — that container of bologna from last semester? You should throw it out.

7) Mental Health

This is a serious subject that’s often hard for students to talk about.

Mental illness comes in many varieties, from mild depression and anxiety to more severe conditions of schizophrenia, a diagnosis that often doesn’t appear in people until their early 20s (a time when many are on their own for the first time in college).

College students may face significant stress and have difficulty being away from home, which can lead to worsening symptoms of depression and, in some cases, even suicide attempts and overdoses. It’s important for college students to keep an eye on their friends to assure they're doing well.
For those who might be having a difficult time, don't hesitate to seek help. Most people have been through some very tough times while juggling classes, and there's no shame in looking for someone to talk with to get some help. Preventing an ER visit in severe mental health situations may not always be possible, but by getting help early for yourself or for friends in need, you're potentially avoiding a serious crisis down the road. If you’re looking for a great resource to start a conversation, call University of Utah Counseling 801-581-6826 or visit www.bigthingslittlethings.com.  

8) Overlooking Required Medications

For many students who’ve grown up taking medication because of diagnoses of asthma, diabetes, mental health issues or other things, college and the excitement it offers can lead to overlooking the need to stay on track with meds.

Whether it’s because a parent has always been looking out to make sure someone has been taking their medicine or because a student decides he or she no longer wants to deal with their health condition, ignoring critical prescriptions brings in several students to the ER each semester. Don’t be one of them. Take care of your health and consult with a physician if you’re struggling to understand your prescription needs.

9) Caffeine

Students regularly arrive in the ER with complaints that their hearts are racing and fear they may pass out. An EKG (a test that checks for problems with the heart) is performed, only to reveal that everything looks normal. After another hour on a cardiac monitor, nothing suspicious can be found with abnormal heart rhythms.

When major problems are ruled out, students are asked about caffeine use —and often they admit they've been throwing back an energy drink every hour for the past week.

"Were you drinking this much caffeine during the summer?" they are asked. They say no, but a return to school where they now must get up at 7 a.m. instead of sleeping in until 10 a.m. leaves them sleep deprived and without energy to go out with their friends until 2 a.m., they say.

Clearly, loading up on caffeine is not the solution to this issue. Try to get some sleep, cut back on the caffeine, and you'll potentially avoid the feeling that your heart is about to jump out of your chest.

10) Finals Angst

This particular illness, in some cases, seems to appear mysteriously around finals week. Vague symptoms like abdominal pain and nausea are common culprits, but often laboratory testing and a further examination of the patient reveals the source of the discomfort can’t be pinpointed.

It’s certainly not my place to judge, but it is somewhat curious that nearly all of the students ask for some sort of written excuse to allow them to schedule their finals for a later date.

The best way to avoid this phenomenon is to do your homework. A trip to the ER is an expensive (and silly) way to avoid a pending final. You’re smarter than that —after all, you’re a Ute.  Have a great semester.


Melinda Rogers

Melinda Rogers is a communications specialist with University of Utah Health Sciences Office of Public Affairs

er trauma

comments powered by Disqus

Sign Up for Weekly Health Updates

Get weekly emails of the latest news from HealthFeed.

For Patients

Find a doctor or location close to you so you can get the health care you need, when you need it