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Acad Emerg Med. 1997 Mar;4(3):209-13.

Herbal preparation use among urban emergency department patients.

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  • 1Department of Emergency Medicine, New York University Medical Center, Bellevue Hospital Center, New York, USA.



To determine the prevalence of herbal preparation use among patients presenting to an urban teaching hospital ED.


A prospective anonymous survey on herbal preparation use was performed. Consecutive, acutely ill or injured adult (> or = 18 years old) ED patients were offered the survey over a 1-month period. The survey also asked for information related to patient age, ethnicity, gender, employment, education, cigarette smoking history, ethanol consumption, use of illicit drugs, chief complaint, and HIV status.


Of 2,473 eligible subjects, 623 (25%) participated. The overall reported prevalence of herbal preparation use among the participants was 21.7%. Women were more likely to use herbal preparations than men (28.5% vs 17.2%, p = 0.013). Prevalence rates in different ethnic populations were: whites, 18.2%; Hispanics, 13.9%; blacks, 26.4%; and Asians, 36.8%. Asians had a significantly higher use rate than the other ethnic groups (p = 0.039). Neither HIV positivity, educational level, employment status, nor age was significantly associated with herbal preparation use. The most commonly reported herbal preparations were goldenseal tea, garlic, and ginger. Several of the herbal preparations reported as used by patients in this study have been associated with severe systemic toxicity in the medical literature.


Although the survey response rate was low, the prevalence of herbal preparation use among acutely ill or injured patients presenting to this urban ED remains significant. A directed history toward specific herbal preparation use may provide relevant pharmacologic information and uncover cases of herbal-preparation-induced toxicity.

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