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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Suffocation Injuries in the United States: Patient Characteristics and Factors Associated with Mortality


Introduction: Asphyxiation or suffocation injuries can result in multi-organ damage and are a major cause of morbidity and mortality among different age groups. This study aims to describe characteristics of patients presenting with suffocation injuries to emergency departments (EDs) in the U.S and to identify factors associated with mortality in this population.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective cross-sectional study using the 2013 U.S National Emergency Department Sample database. ED visits with primary diagnoses of intentional or accidental suffocation injury, and injury by inhalation and aspiration of foreign bodies or food (ICD-9-CM codes) were included. We performed descriptive statistics to describe the study population. This was followed by multivariate analyses to identify factors associated with mortality.

Results: We included a total of 27,381 ED visits for suffocation injuries. Most suffered from either inhalation and ingestion of food causing obstruction of respiratory tract or suffocation (51.6%), or suicide and self-inflicted injury by hanging, strangulation, and suffocation (39.4%). Overall mortality was 10.9%. Over half (54.7%) of the patients were between 19 and 65 years old. Males were more common than females (59.1% vs. 40.9%). Over half of the patients (54.9%) were treated and released from the ED. Factors associated with increased mortality included male gender, young age (4-18 years), diseases of the cardiac, respiratory, genitourinary and neurologic systems, intentional self-harm, and self-payer status.

Conclusion: Mortality from suffocation injuries remains high with significant burden on children and adolescents and on patients with intentional injuries. Tailored initiatives targeting identified modifiable factors through implementation of behavioral and environmental change can reduce the risk of suffocation injury and improve clinical outcomes of affected victims.


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