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From Death We Learn 2009. Death from Constipation Office of Safety and Quality in Healthcare Reference: Greeuw Inquest August 2009. The case. Background A woman in her 40’s was admitted as an involuntary patient to a regional hospital’s mental health unit

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From death we learn 2009

From Death We Learn 2009

Death from Constipation

Office of Safety and Quality in Healthcare

Reference: Greeuw Inquest

August 2009


The case
The case

Background

  • A woman in her 40’s was admitted as an involuntary patient to a regional hospital’s mental health unit

  • Presented with relapse of her schizoaffective disorder

  • extensive past psychiatric history with previous long admissions

  • prior history of:

    • constipation

    • undiagnosed episode of collapse associated with vomiting black fluid 3 weeks earlier.


The case1
The case

Management

During the admission the patient’s constipation got worse.

On Day 11 of the admission the patient:

  • complained of abdominal discomfort and constipation

  • vomited faecal material

  • was examined and found to be tachycardic and hypotensive with a distended abdomen

  • Was diagnosed as having an acute bowel obstruction


The case2
The case

Management

The patient:

  • was transferred to a general ward

  • Had Chest & abdominal X-rays which showed

    • reduced lung capacity

    • impacted faeces in the pelvis

  • Had a nasogastric tube inserted


The case3
The case

Outcome

The patient:

  • Collapsed

  • Aspirated, as large amounts of faecal gastric contents poured out of her mouth

  • Became asystollic

    Intubation was attempted, respiratory support was given but, despite attempts at resuscitation, the patient died.


The inquest
The inquest

A coronial inquest revealed that the deceased:

  • Died as a result of aspiration of vomitus with bowel obstruction due to constipation.

  • Was taking a cocktail of medications capable of causing constipation:

    • Chlorpromazine, Olanzapine, Benztropine, Lamotrigine, Ferrograd C

  • Must have complained of her constipation on prior occasions although these complaints were not recorded

  • Had an abdomen that appeared distended to the extent that it would have been obvious on examination

  • Had not been physically examined at any stage during her admission to hospital because of uncertainty over the role of attending physicians in a shared care environment.


The inquest1
The inquest

The State Coroner recommended:

  • For psychiatric involuntary patients a physical examination is conducted at a time when those patients have settled to the extent which would enable such an examination to be meaningfully conducted.

  • For psychiatric patients receiving medications which can cause constipation bowel charts are used to monitor this potential problem.

  • The regional hospital’s policies are reviewed to ensure that they clearly define the roles of visiting general practitioners and that steps be taken to ensure that any changes to those policies will be communicated to those practitioners


Key messages
Key messages

  • Constipation in patients taking psychotropic medication may lead to death.

  • A detailed physical examination is part of the assessment of all patients, including those with a primary mental illness.

  • Shared care arrangements require roles & responsibilities to be clearly defined & understood.


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