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Esophageal Causes of Sudden and Unexpected Death


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Prof. Roger W. Byard, M.D.
Forensic Science SA
21 Divett Place
Adelaide, SA 5000


ABSTRACT: Gastrointestinal conditions are uncommon causes of sudden and/or unexpected death as compared to cardiovascular diseases, motor vehicle trauma, or suicide, and may involve an array of fatal mechanisms. Lethal esophageal conditions are encountered even less often, the manifestations of which include acute upper airway occlusion from tumors or foreign material, intraluminal hemorrhage from vascular abnormalities, or perforation with fistula formation resulting in hemorrhage and sepsis. When encountered at autopsy, a particular condition may also be a manifestation of a disease that does not primarily involve the esophagus. For this reason, a detailed autopsy investigation is required for evidence of systemic or remote disease when lesions are found within the esophagus. In this report, possible life-threatening esophageal conditions are reviewed with a description of lethal mechanisms, mention of rare associated diseases, and comment on difficulties that may arise at autopsy in the evaluation of such cases.

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