Fatal anaphylaxis in the UK, 1992-2001

Novartis Found Symp. 2004:257:116-28; discussion 128-32, 157-60, 276-85.


Each year in the UK, around nine deaths are attributed to anaphylaxis to pharmaceuticals, six to food and four to stings. I have identified 214 deaths associated with anaphylaxis, and have sufficient information for 196 to determine that 88 deaths were due to shock, 96 to asphyxia. Five deaths followed epinephrine overdose, seven were complicated by disseminated intravascular coagulation. There will have been other unrecognized fatal antibiotic and asthmatic food reactions. For foods, peak age was 17-27 with a female and atopic predominance; the first arrest was commonly from asthma 25-35 minutes after the implicated food. For stings, peak age was 45-70 with male and non-atopic predominance; death was commonly from shock 10-15 minutes after the sting. A majority of deaths from pharmaceuticals in hospital took 5 minutes or less from dose to arrest; peak age was 60-75. Maximum time for any cause from trigger to first arrest was 6 hours. The danger of epinephrine overdose and its limitations in reversing anaphylaxis must be recognized. The patient should remain supine with legs raised throughout sting and other shock reactions. Prevention of fatal food reactions will depend on avoidance and optimal daily control of asthma.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anaphylaxis / epidemiology
  • Anaphylaxis / mortality*
  • Anaphylaxis / physiopathology
  • Anaphylaxis / therapy
  • Cause of Death
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Shock / physiopathology
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology