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Study finds an estimated 23,000 ER visits are related to dietary supplements

A recent New England Journal of Medicine article found an estimated 23,000 emergency room visits each year are attributed to adverse events related to dietary supplements. The lead author, Andrew Geller, MD, is a senior associate with the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine and a medical officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The study of surveillance data from 2004 to 2013 showed the visits commonly involve heart problems related to weight-loss or energy products among young adults 20 to 34 years old. Another area of concern was the number of cases involving unsupervised ingestion of supplements by children, which accounted for one-fifth of ER visits.

Among adults aged 65 and older, thirty-seven percent of ER visits for supplement-related adverse events involved swallowing problems such as choking on supplement pills.

"These data are important because dietary supplements are presumed to be safe, and regulated differently from over-the-counter or prescription products," says Geller. "Unlike pharmaceuticals which have to demonstrate both benefits and safety, dietary supplements can be sold without that information. Perhaps these findings can help target interventions to reduce safety risks."

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