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Clin Exp Allergy. 1995 Sep;25(9):866-70.

Is unrecognized anaphylaxis a cause of sudden unexpected death?

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1
Department of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, USA.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Serum tryptase levels reflect mast cell activation and correlate with anaphylactic reactions. Elevated post-mortem serum tryptase levels have been found in witnessed fatal anaphylaxis.

OBJECTIVE:

This study was designed to examine whether or not unwitnessed anaphylaxis may be a hitherto unrecognized cause of sudden unexplained death.

METHODS:

Mast cell tryptase was measured by immunoassay in 68 post-mortem sera remaining from a previous study which reported elevated venom-specific IgE antibodies in 22 (23%) of 94 victims of sudden unexpected death. Autopsies were performed in all cases. The cause of death was independently reported by pathologists unfamiliar with the nature of this study.

RESULTS:

Serum tryptase levels were elevated (> 10 ng/mL) in nine of 68 cases. The levels could not be predicted from the clinical circumstances surrounding death. Sera from four individuals contained both elevated tryptase and previously reported elevated venom-specific IgE.

CONCLUSIONS:

We conclude that mast cell activation may accompany up to 13% of sudden unexpected deaths in adults. Measurement of both tryptase and specific IgE antibody levels in post-mortem sera from persons experiencing sudden, unexpected death may identify a small subset of cases due to clinically unrecognized fatal anaphylaxis, including those due to insect stings.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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