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Am J Emerg Med. 2013 Jul;31(7):1073-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2013.04.004. Epub 2013 May 20.

Cardiac disease and probable intent after drowning.

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  • 1Kungälv Ambulance Service, SE-442 40 Kungälv, Sweden.



The aim of this study is to determine the prevalence of cardiac disease and its relationship to the victim's probable intent among patients with cardiac arrest due to drowning.


Retrospective autopsied drowning cases reported to the Swedish National Board of Forensic Medicine between 1990 and 2010 were included, alongside reported and treated out-of-hospital cardiac arrests due to drowning from the Swedish Out of Hospital Cardiac Arrest Registry that matched events in the National Board of Forensic Medicine registry (n = 272).


Of 2166 drowned victims, most (72%) were males; the median age was 58 years (interquartile range, 42-71 years). Drowning was determined to be accidental in 55%, suicidal in 28%, and murder in 0.5%, whereas the intent was unclear in 16%. A contributory cause of death was found in 21%, and cardiac disease as a possible contributor was found in 9% of all autopsy cases. Coronary artery sclerosis (5%) and myocardial infarction (2%) were most frequent. Overall, cardiac disease was found in 14% of all accidental drownings, as compared with no cases (0%) in the suicide group; P = .05. Ventricular fibrillation was found to be similar in both cardiac and noncardiac cases (7%). This arrhythmia was found in 6% of accidents and 11% of suicides (P = .23).


Among 2166 autopsied cases of drowning, more than half were considered to be accidental, and less than one-third, suicidal. Among accidents, 14% were found to have a cardiac disease as a possible contributory factor; among suicides, the proportion was 0%. The low proportion of cases showing ventricular fibrillation was similar, regardless of the presence of a cardiac disease.

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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