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Gazzetta Medica Italiana - Archivio per le Scienze Mediche 2019 June;178(6):474-9

DOI: 10.23736/S0393-3660.18.03862-7


language: English

Sudden unexpected death secondary to peripartum cardiomyopathy

Massimo NIOLA 1, Mariano PATERNOSTER 1, Loriana PACIELLO 1, Pasquale GIUGLIANO 2, Alfonso MAIELLARO 3, Alessandro FEOLA 4 , Antonio PERNA 5, Emanuele CAPASSO 1, Vincenzo GRAZIANO 1, Pierpaolo DI LORENZO 1, Claudio BUCCELLI 1

1 Section of Legal Medicine, Department of Advanced Biomedical Sciences, University of Naples “Federico II”, Naples, Italy; 2 Complex Unit of Legal Medicine, “Sant’Anna e San Sebastiano” Hospital, Caserta, Italy; 3 Complex Unit of Legal Medicine, “Antonio Cardarelli” Hospital, Naples, Italy; 4 Department of Biomedicine and Prevention, Tor Vergata University, Rome, Italy; 5 Department of Forensic Medicine, The Constantinian University, Lincoln, RI, USA

Peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM), a rare and potentially fatal disease, occurs in young, previously healthy pregnant women in the last stages of pregnancy and up to 5-6 months after delivery. Since its etiology is multifactorial, diagnosis is generally made via exclusion of all other causes. We here describe three cases of three young women who died suddenly and unexpectedly after giving birth by Cesarean section (C-section). These cases were brought to our attention after malpractice claims had been brought against the hospitals’ health professionals. In all three reported cases, the cardiac function suddenly and unexpectedly worsened within a few hours after C-section. Strikingly, all three women had unremarkable clinical histories. Prior to postpartum complications, they had experienced uncomplicated gestation and had given birth to healthy full-term newborns. Therefore, since in none of these cases could the women’s uneventful clinical history have foreshadowed exitus, the hospital physicians attributed their deaths to sudden cardiac arrest. The macroscopic and microscopic histological findings ruled out any other condition that might have led to the women’s sudden and unexpected deaths; the toxicological test results were all negative and no surgical anomalies were found. After painstakingly analyzing the medical and clinical data reported in the women’s medical charts, together with the histological data emerging after autopsy, in agreement with the literature, we concluded that all three women had died of peripartum cardiomyopathy. Lastly, our three cases suggest that among the various forensic methods used to determine the causes of death, the histological approach remains the gold standard for identifying the causes of death especially in previously healthy individuals who die suddenly and unexpectedly.

KEY WORDS: Death, sudden, cardiac; Maternal death; Cardiomyopathies; Forensic pathology

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