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Am J Med. 2005 Mar;118(3):301-6.

Physical symptoms as a predictor of health care use and mortality among older adults.

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Division of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, USA.



To describe the patterns of physical symptoms in older adults and to examine the validity of symptoms in predicting hospitalization and mortality.


Adults aged 60 years and older (N=3498) who completed screening for self-reported symptoms at routine primary care visits. Self-reported symptoms were collected using an abbreviated PRIME-MD screening instrument. Clinical characteristics, hospitalization, and mortality in the year following screening were measured using data taken from a comprehensive electronic medical record.


The mean patient age was 69 years, 69% were women, and 56% were African-American. A majority (51%) of respondents characterized their health as fair or poor. The most commonly reported symptoms were musculoskeletal pain (65%), fatigue (55%), back pain (45%), shortness of breath (41%), and difficulty sleeping (38%). A summary score of physical symptoms (range 0-12) was a significant independent predictor of future hospitalization and death even when controlling for clinical characteristics, chronic medical conditions, self-rated health, and affective symptoms. Disease-specific symptoms were more common among patients diagnosed with the specific condition but there was also a substantial background prevalence of these symptoms.


Physical symptoms are highly prevalent in older primary care patients and predict hospitalization and mortality at one year. Future work is needed to determine how to target symptoms as a potential mechanism to reduce health care use and mortality.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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