Level of Agitation of Psychiatric Patients Presenting to an Emergency Department

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Objectives: The primary purpose of this study was to determine the level of agitation that psychiatric patients exhibit upon arrival to the emergency department. The secondary purpose was to determine whether the level of agitation changed over time depending upon whether the patient was restrained or unrestrained.

Method: An observational study enrolling a convenience sample of 100 patients presenting with a psychiatric complaint was planned, in order to obtain 50 chemically and/or physically restrained and 50 unrestrained patients. The study was performed in summer 2004 in a community, inner-city, level 1 emergency department with 45,000 visits per year. The level of patient agitation was measured using the Agitated Behavior Scale (ABS) and the Richmond Agitation-Sedation Scale (RASS) upon arrival and every 30 minutes over a 3-hour period. The inclusion criteria allowed entry of any patient who presented to the emergency department with a psychiatric complaint thought to be unrelated to physical illness. Patients who were restrained for nonbehavioral reasons or were medically unstable were excluded.

Results: 101 patients were enrolled in the study. Of that total, 53 patients were not restrained, 47 patients were restrained, and 1 had incomplete data. There were no differences in gender, race, or age between the 2 groups. Upon arrival, 2 of the 47 restrained patients were rated severely agitated on the ABS, and 13 of 47 restrained patients were rated combative on the RASS. There was a statistical difference (p = .01) between the groups on both scales from time 0 to time 90 minutes. Scores on the agitation scales decreased over time in both groups. One patient in the unrestrained group became unarousable during treatment.

Conclusion: This study demonstrated that patients who were restrained were more agitated than those who were not, and that agitation levels in both groups decreased over time. Some restrained patients did not meet combativeness or severe agitation criteria, suggesting either that use of other criteria is needed or that restraints were used inappropriately. Further study of the level of agitation and the effects of restraints is needed.

Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry 2008;10(2):108-113

https://doi.org/10.4088/PCC.v10n0204