Sudden and unexpected deaths in an adult population, Cape Town, South Africa, 2001-2005

Tiemensma, Marianne
Burger, Elsie Helena
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Health and Medical Publishing Group (HMPG)
Background. According to the regulations of the National Health Act, all 'sudden and unexpected' deaths in South Africa should be referred to Forensic Pathology Services (FPS) for further investigation. Objectives. We aimed to determine the final outcomes of forensic postmortem examinations in 'sudden and unexpected' adult deaths referred to Tygerberg FPS between 2001 and 2005. Methods. The study was a retrospective descriptive study. Demographic and autopsy data from adult cases of 'sudden and unexpected deaths' referred to Tygerberg FPS were collected and analysed. Results. Some 816 adult cases of 'sudden' deaths were studied. The presumed manner of death was natural in 645 (79.0%) cases, unnatural in 99 (12.2%), and undetermined in 72 (8.8%). Diseases of the cardiovascular, respiratory and central nervous systems accounted for the majority of natural deaths. Infectious diseases accounted for most deaths in the youngest age group studied (18 - 29 years); however, ischaemic heart disease was the most prevalent cause of death in the total study population. Conclusions. This study highlighted the lack of useful preautopsy information and therefore the performance of 'unnecessary' medicolegal autopsies in a resource-limited country. Clinicians could ease the burden by giving useful information when referring cases to FPS. Feedback should be given to family members, especially where the cause of death may have an impact on surviving family members.
The original publication is available at
Forensic pathologists -- South Africa, Death -- Accidents -- Investigation, Death -- Causes, Sudden death -- Autopsy -- South Africa, Medicolegal investigators -- South Africa
Tiemensma, M. & Burger, E. H. 2012. Sudden and unexpected deaths in an adult population, Cape Town, South Africa, 2001-2005. South African Medical Journal, 102(2):90-94.