What causes death in anaphylaxis?

Updated: May 16, 2018
  • Author: S Shahzad Mustafa, MD; Chief Editor: Michael A Kaliner, MD  more...
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The most common causes of death are cardiovascular collapse and respiratory compromise. One report examined 214 anaphylactic fatalities for which the mode of death could be surmised in 196, 98 of which were due to asphyxia (49 lower airways [bronchospasm], 26 both upper and lower airways, and 23 upper airways [angioedema]). The fatalities from acute bronchospasm occurred almost exclusively in those with preexisting asthma.

Another analysis of 23 unselected cases of fatal anaphylaxis determined that 16 of 20 “immediate” deaths (death occurring within one hour of symptom onset) and 16 of the 23 cases that underwent autopsy were due to upper airway edema.

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