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Top Reasons College Students End Up in the ER

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Top Reasons College Students End Up in the ER

Aug 24, 2022

From alcohol poisoning to rushing the field at football games, emergency room physician Troy Madsen, MD, discusses the top eight reasons he sees college students come into the ER.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: You know it's back to school time. You're going to hear a lot of advice from how to study to how to elude the freshman 15, but only here on The Scope are you going to hear the eight reasons college students end up in the emergency room.

We're here with Dr. Troy Madsen, emergency physician at the University of Utah Hospital. What are the eight things that could put a college freshman or any college student, for that matter, in the emergency room? Some are obvious, some aren't.

Dr. Madsen: That's right. Yeah. Some, you know, right off the top of your head, you're going to think, yeah, this is going to land you in the ER. And the obvious one, the easy one is getting drunk and passing out.

Interviewer: Number one, getting drunk.

Dr. Madsen: Number one. Yeah, we certainly see that. People pass out. They're not responding. Their friends bring them to the ER. You don't want to do that. Don't want to end up in the ER drunk. This can be a very serious thing. I always worry about the person being so drunk that they vomit and they breathe that into their lungs. So that gets very concerning. And then alcohol poisoning, which just means they're just so affected by this, that they're not responding and that can lead to some very serious problems.

Interviewer: Okay. So even though we laugh at it, and it is the obvious one, it's a very serious one.

Dr. Madsen: Absolutely.

Interviewer: All right. Number two, why a college student might end up in the emergency room.

Dr. Madsen: So, number two, let's try and kind of keep it obvious here still, so drugs.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Madsen: We do see a lot of prescription drug abuse, Oxycontin, oxycodone. There are also illegal drugs. Meth seems to be the drug of choice in the state of Utah, for whatever reason. I don't quite understand it. People who are on meth look like they're absolutely miserable, but we do see a lot of it. So keep it simple, don't do drugs.

Along with drugs, you know, the other issue is there are certain drugs you should use, and these are prescription drugs. A lot of the other reason we see people, students in the ER is because they get away from home, they feel independent, they don't have their parents watching over them, they stop taking their medications. These maybe medications for diabetes, asthma, maybe for psychiatric illnesses. And then they start to get some complications and issues there and end up in the ER for that.

Interviewer: Number three, a reason why a college student might end up in the emergency room.

Dr. Madsen: So let's hope there's a reason to do this, this season for the Utes, but this is rushing the football field.

Interviewer: Are you serious?

Dr. Madsen: We see this quite often.

Interviewer: Really?

Dr. Madsen: Students, yeah, they rush the field, they flip over the guardrails, right there by the field, fall forward on their forearms. I've seen several students come in with forearm fractures in both arms, and that's a miserable situation to be in. I won't get into the logistics of what that prevents you from doing when both arms are in a cast. But it's not a good situation and you're going to need help at home with basic tasks if that happens to you. So don't rush the field and flip over the handlebars.

Interviewer: So eight reasons college students might end up in the emergency room, number 4.

Dr. Madsen: So number four is food poisoning. And this is one of these things where, you know, we're not always sure what caused it, but quite often I'll see college students come in with nausea, vomiting, feeling miserable, and they clearly tell me, "Hey, I saw something sitting out on the counter, in the kitchen of my apartment or the dorm room, and I was hungry and I ate it." So again, always hard to know what caused it, but watch out for that old food. I know it's tempting, especially when you don't have a lot of money.

Interviewer: That eight-hour-old pizza might not be the bargain that you think it is.

Dr. Madsen: Yeah, it might not be the best idea.

Interviewer: Number five.

Dr. Madsen: The next issue is a very serious one, and it is something we often see in college students, and that's psychiatric illness. There's a lot of stress in college. People get away from home. A lot of people who may have never been diagnosed with schizophrenia before, this is their first what we call psychotic break, where they actually start to have hallucinations. So be very careful and be aware. Keep an eye on your friends. If they're acting strangely, be sure and get help for them. And if you're someone who's just feeling overwhelmed, stressed by college, keep balanced. You know, look for balance in your life and don't be afraid to get help. There are plenty of resources available in college through the Student Health Center. Be sure and talk to them and get help before it gets too late and too serious.

Interviewer: And nothing to be ashamed of.

Dr. Madsen: Absolutely not. Nothing to be ashamed of. We see it all the time, and sometimes you just need a little help.

Interviewer: How else can you end up in the emergency room as a college student, number six.

Dr. Madsen: Well, the next thing is, and, you know, sometimes I think . . . I don't know. Maybe we think we live in the state of Utah, this isn't such a big issue, but we do see a lot of sexually transmitted diseases, gonorrhea and chlamydia being the primary two things that we see. It exists, we see a lot of it, and it is a serious thing. Especially in females, this can lead to chronic problems, with possible serious infections in their abdomen, problems down the road having children, even death, if a disease were to progress far enough. So be safe, be careful.

Interviewer: Number seven.

Dr. Madsen: So number seven. So this is something, you know, you'd be surprised and I don't know what people are thinking, but quite often we will see various items in various orifices. I will not get into details here, but let me just tell you, first of all, you don't have to tell us you slipped and fell on it. We know what happened. You know, so just be honest about it, but be careful. Again . . .

Interviewer: More importantly, maybe just don't do it.

Dr. Madsen: Just don't do it.

Interviewer: All right. And finally, number eight, why a college student might end up in the emergency room.

Dr. Madsen: So finally is finals week.

Interviewer: Really?

Dr. Madsen: Finals week is . . .

Interviewer: How so?

Dr. Madsen: . . . notoriously bad for students in the ER. Lots of students with lots of vague symptoms, usually nothing coming up on any testing, but every one of them wants an excuse for finals. So, you know, if you want to get out of your final, maybe try a different way, but . . .

Interviewer: Study maybe, for example, would be a way.

Dr. Madsen: Exactly. Try to prepare so you don't feel you need to go to the ER to get an excuse to get out of your final. But we do see a lot of people for that.

Interviewer: All right. Thank you very much, Dr. Troy Madison, emergency room physician at University of Utah Hospital, with the eight reasons college students end up in the emergency room. Here's to a great semester.

updated: August 24, 2022
originally published: August 23, 2013