European Radiology

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 152–160 | Cite as

The effectiveness of postmortem multidetector computed tomography in the detection of fatal findings related to cause of non-traumatic death in the emergency department

  • Naoya Takahashi
  • Takeshi Higuchi
  • Motoi Shiotani
  • Yasuo Hirose
  • Hiroyuki Shibuya
  • Haruo Yamanouchi
  • Hideki Hashidate
  • Kazuhisa Funayama
Emergency Radiology



To investigate the diagnostic performance of postmortem multidetector computed tomography (PMMDCT) for the detection of fatal findings related to causes of non-traumatic death in the emergency department (ED).


494 consecutive cases of clinically diagnosed non-traumatic death in ED involving PMMDCT were enrolled. The fatal findings were detected on PMMDCT and classified as definite or possible findings. These findings were confirmed by autopsy in 20 cases.


The fatal findings were detected in 188 subjects (38.1%) including 122 with definite (24.7%) and 66 with possible finding (13.4%). Definite findings included 21 cases of intracranial vascular lesions, 84 with intra-thoracic haemorrhage, 13 with retroperitoneal haemorrhage and one with oesophagogastric haemorrhage. In three patients who had initially been diagnosed with non-traumatic death, PMMDCT revealed fatal traumatic findings. Two definite findings (two haemopericardiums) and seven possible findings (two intestinal obstructions, one each of multiple liver tumours central pulmonary artery dilatation, pulmonary congestion, peritoneal haematoma, and brain oedema) were confirmed by autopsy. The causes of death were not determined in cases with possible findings without autopsy.


PMMDCT is a feasible tool for detecting morphological fatal findings in non-traumatic death in ED. It is important to know the ability and limitation of PMMDCT.

Key Points

Postmortem multi-detector CT (MDCT) can reveal the cause of non-traumatic death.

Postmortem MDCT is quick and can be widely available.

Postmortem MDCT is acceptable to those relatives who object to invasive autopsy.

MDCT cannot establish the cause of death in all patients.


Postmortem CT Emergency department Postmortem imaging Forensic imaging Sudden death 



The authors thank Mr. Stephan Dulka for checking the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© European Society of Radiology 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Naoya Takahashi
    • 1
  • Takeshi Higuchi
    • 1
  • Motoi Shiotani
    • 1
  • Yasuo Hirose
    • 2
  • Hiroyuki Shibuya
    • 3
  • Haruo Yamanouchi
    • 4
  • Hideki Hashidate
    • 3
  • Kazuhisa Funayama
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Diagnostic RadiologyNiigata City General HospitalNiigataJapan
  2. 2.Department of Emergency and Critical CareNiigata City General HospitalNiigataJapan
  3. 3.Department of PathologyNiigata City General HospitalNiigataJapan
  4. 4.Department of Community Preventive Medicine, Division of Legal MedicineNiigata University Graduate School of Medical and Dental SciencesNiigataJapan

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