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.