Choking deaths: the role of antipsychotic medication

Br J Psychiatry. 2003 Nov:183:446-50. doi: 10.1192/bjp.183.5.446.


Background: An increased risk of choking associated with antipsychotic medication has been repeatedly postulated.

Aims: To examine this association in a large number of cases of choking deaths.

Method: Cases of individuals who had died because of choking were linked with a case register recording contacts with public mental health services. The actual and expected rates of psychiatric disorder and the presence of psychotropic medication in post-mortem blood samples were compared.

Results: The 70 people who had choked to death were over 20 times more likely to have been treated previously for schizophrenia. They were also more likely to have had a prior organic psychiatric syndrome. The risk for those receiving thioridazine or lithium was, respectively, 92 times and 30 times greater than expected. Other antipsychotic and psychotropic drugs were not over-represented.

Conclusions: The increased risk of death in people with schizophrenia may be a combination of inherent predispositions and the use of specific antipsychotic drugs. The increased risk of choking in those with organic psychiatric syndromes is consistent with the consequences of compromised neurological competence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Airway Obstruction / chemically induced
  • Airway Obstruction / mortality*
  • Antipsychotic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lithium / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / drug therapy
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / mortality
  • Psychotic Disorders / complications
  • Psychotic Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Psychotic Disorders / mortality
  • Risk Factors
  • Schizophrenia / drug therapy
  • Schizophrenia / mortality
  • Sex Distribution
  • Thioridazine / adverse effects


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Lithium
  • Thioridazine