Date: 21 Nov 2003

Analysis of 153 deaths after upper gastrointestinal endoscopy: room for improvement?

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Background: Upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy is a widely used procedure that is generally considered to be safe. Methods: Of a total of 33,854 patients who underwent upper gastrointestinal endoscopy during 1999 under the care of surgeons in Scotland, 153 (0.004%) died. We reviewed the case notes of these 153 patients. Results: Death was directly related to endoscopy in 20 of 153 cases (13%), most commonly due to gastrointestinal perforation or acute pancreatitis. Ninety-one percent (139) of the patients undergoing endoscopy were American Society of Anesthesiologists grades (ASA) 3–5, and 88% received intravenous sedation; an anesthetist was present in 31 cases (20%). Oxygen was administered to 45% of patients during the endoscopy. In 56% of the procedures, there was monitoring of electrocardiograms (ECG), pulse oximetry, or blood pressure readings. Conclusions: Although deaths after endoscopy may be unavoidable, clinicians undertaking upper GI endoscopy or endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) in ASA 3–5 patients should provide oxygen therapy and cardiovascular monitoring, and keep accurate records. The involvement of an anesthetist in airway management and the administration of intravenous sedation should be actively considered.