Causes and place of death in Italian patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Acta Neurol Scand. 2010 Sep;122(3):217-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0404.2009.01290.x. Epub 2010 Jan 15.


Objectives: To determine the causes and place of death in a cohort of Italian patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). A better understanding of the likely causes of death in ALS might improve the palliative care at the end-of-life, whereas knowing the place of death will help to verify the need for highly specialized care services, e.g. hospice and nursing home.

Patients and methods: Between 2000 and 2008, 182 ALS patients (onset: spinal, 127; bulbar, 55; M/F: 1.6) were followed in a single ALS Tertiary Centre in Palermo, Sicily, Italy until death. Medical data for each individual patient were recorded in a large database throughout the disease course. Information concerning causes and place of death were obtained by consultation with relatives or the family physician.

Results: Respiratory failure (terminal respiratory insufficiency, pneumonia) was the most frequent cause of death (81.3%), which included six cases (3.3%) who requested a terminal sedation. Sudden death and death during sleep accounted for by 6.0% and 6.6% of all deaths, respectively. Heart-related causes of death were relatively infrequent in our cohort, accounting for by 7.1% of all deaths (i.e. sudden death: 6.0% and myocardial infarct: 1.1%). Patients (85.2%) died at home.

Conclusions: The leading cause of death in ALS remains the respiratory failure, followed by the sudden death and death during sleep. Most patients in our cohort died at home, a choice that might be only partially driven by cultural factors. These findings might have a great impact on the development of the advanced and end-of-life palliative care and in the planning of specialized care services, as hospice and nursing home.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / complications
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / epidemiology*
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / mortality*
  • Cause of Death / trends
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / etiology
  • Retrospective Studies