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Sudden Death From Massive Gastrointestinal Hemorrhage Associated With Crack Cocaine Use: Case Report and Review of the Literature

Lingamfelter, Daniel C. DO*†; Knight, Laura D. MD

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: March 2010 - Volume 31 - Issue 1 - p 98-99
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e3181c6bed9
Case Report

Cocaine is associated with many health complications including gastrointestinal ischemia/infarction, and hemorrhage. The clinical medical literature describes such entities, but no case exists within the forensic literature describing life-threatening intraluminal gastrointestinal hemorrhage and sudden death associated with cocaine.

A 48-year-old black man died suddenly in his home, with drug paraphernalia near the body. Further investigation revealed blood stains on upholstery, and a toilet filled with fresh blood. External examination of the body revealed fresh blood draining from the anus. Internal examination revealed a dusky portion of distal ileum filled with an abundance of fresh blood. Toxicology confirmed the suspicion of acute cocaine intoxication.

Review of the clinical literature revealed several case reports describing an association between cocaine use and intestinal infarction, one with hemoperitoneum. Review of the forensic literature returned one case describing an association between cocaine toxicity and intestinal infarction, but without hemorrhage. To our knowledge, our case represents the first report in the forensic literature describing massive gastrointestinal hemorrhage associated with acute cocaine intoxication. It is important that the forensic pathologist recognize cocaine toxicity as a potential cause of gastrointestinal bleeding, especially in younger male decedents without significant comorbidities. Scene investigation may reveal useful clues pointing to this unusual etiology.

From the *Department of Pathology, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Kansas City, MO; †Jackson County Medical Examiner's Office, Kansas City, MO; and ‡Department of Pathology, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, Kansas City, MO.

Manuscript received September 21, 2008; accepted October 14, 2008.

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Reprints: Daniel C. Lingamfelter, DO, Jackson County Medical Examiner's Office, 660 East 24th Street, Kansas City, MO 64108. E-mail:

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.