Dark side of the moon

‘Full moon madness’ in the ER: Myth or reality?

Is there actually an increase in admissions and strange happenings in the emergency room when the moon is full? Emergency physicians weigh in.

Through centuries, the full moon has been associated with an array of strange phenomena, from witchcraft and werewolves to spikes in crime, traffic accidents and hospital admission rates.

Does the full moon really correlate to a rise in emergency room visits? Anecdotal evidence may say yes, but so far research hasn’t documented a strong link.

A 2011 study published in the World Journal of Surgery found that more than 40% of medical staff believe that lunar phases can affect human behavior, even though most studies find no direct correlation between the full moon and hospital admission rates.

A real occurrence?

In the view of many ER physicians, however, including AOA President John W. Becher, DO, “full moon madness” is a real phenomenon. Dr. Becher, who has practiced emergency medicine for nearly 40 years, recalled his experiences as chairman of emergency services at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he is currently director of osteopathic medical education.

Adjacent to the center’s emergency department is an 11-bed psychiatric emergency center. “You could almost tell the phase of the moon by how crowded that area of the ED was,” says Dr. Becher. “Anytime the moon was full, that area was overflowing.”

Paul J. Allegretti, DO, agrees that the emergency department seems busier when the moon is full. He’s the program director for the emergency medicine residency at Midwestern University/Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine (MWU/CCOM) in Downers Grove, Illinois. “I think people are sicker and it seems like more unusual things happen when the moon is full, though I don’t think I could ever prove it,” he says.

‘That’s just the nature of the ER’

Eric Moon, DO, an emergency room physician at St. Bernard Hospital in Chicago, has worked exclusively nights since he began practicing 12 years ago.

“For as long as I’ve worked in the emergency department, whenever there’s a full moon, invariably someone will make a comment about how it’s going to be a rough night,” he says. But Dr. Moon says chalking up eventful night shifts to the full moon is an incorrect assumption of cause and effect. “We frequently have crazy nights in the emergency room when the moon is full because that’s just the nature of the ER, no matter what phase the moon is in,” he explains.

What’s your take?

Is “full moon madness” a real phenomenon or a myth? Share your thoughts in the comments.

32 comments

  1. I completely concur that we seem to have higher volumes and more bizarre presentations during a full moon.

  2. Agree with the Chief and Mark- increased volumes with high acuity of critical care and psych issues often seen with the full moon especially on Mondays!

  3. If the next full moon falls on Halloween this week, it will be a bad example here in Chicago because it is not only Halloween, but also a Saturday. Chicago bars are open until 5am on Saturdays. Daylight savings falls on Halloween this year. The clock reset will give people an extra hour of intoxication. Bars will essentially be open until 6am here! I argue that any extra madness can be attributed to these other factors!

  4. My experience strongly suggests that that are busier nights w/ a full moon. Wish that I had done a research paper on this- are there any EM residents out there reading this? or faculty?

  5. Practicing EMED 30 years. Full moon seems to increase usual craziness. My unproven theory which the students and residents are probably tired of hearing, is that when a low pressure front approaches summer or winter ,the ER gets
    Very busy then decreases when past.

  6. Dr. Conte, Please tell us WHY you so
    strongly disagree!
    We are interested to learn the reason you so
    adamantly state your opinion.
    Do you have good evidence the moon has
    no effect on the psyche.

    1. Not only him, others but rare few across “Interwebs” to have the very same opinion.

      And especially (not finger-pointing) the busier nights expense m”experiences” of EMTs.

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  9. It could be that there is more light from the moon and so people are generally more active. Does the level of activity during a full moon vary depending on cloud coverage?

  10. The reasoning for this strange occurrence could be explained by the possibility that when there’s a full moon it’s brighter at night, leading to the possibility of more activity at night in general. If true, this would most likely cause an increase in ER visits in general.

  11. More conception and deliveries w full moon, ICU Pts do worse. More alcohol and condoms sold and used. Just as the moon affects the tides…. our bodies are 80% water, it pulls on it like the ocean. Mostly the gravitational pull, less light affect, but some. It also relates to feeling better with high barometric rather than low.

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  15. As a 20 year , full time paramedic (active, on the streets , in a busy system) I’ll throw my two cents in.. I average at least 2 psych calls in a 12 hour shift, since 1997. They vary . Suicide attempts/gestures, depression , hallucinations, you name it.
    I still work night shift , full time . The amount of psych-related call does not increase because of the moon cycle.
    It may seem that way to some providers because the ‘full moon ‘ is a convenient source of blame. The holiday season doesn’t have a higher suicide rate either.
    Again, that’s a myth and an easy reason to blame … I respond to suicide attempts as much in July as in December The fact (because I’ve worked over 40,000 emergency 911 calls, I can state this as such) is that it is human nature to find reason, a cause, or something to blame for any and everything in life … As far as conceptions and births ..that’s out my scope … I hope the conception thing is right. A full moon can be quite romantic ..

  16. I worked in the UK health service for two years dealing with emergency calls, so I experienced 24 full moons. There was no pattern and nor was there any attempt to increase staff cover on that date. It wasn’t ever mentioned. I’m not aware of any medical centre that takes account of the full moon in its roster of staff. People are strange all year round.

  17. Much more rational response than anything else so far here. Scary that such a huge proportion of medical personnel are prey to superstition instead of enlightened by science. They should be convincingly ctiticizing defects in all the careful attempts to confirm the claim if they believe there is a real effect. Careful definitions of variables and consistent record keeping for a reasonable period of time should reveal even a mild effect, much more convincingly than their general impressions.

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