Terminal events in the intensive care unit: review of 258 fatal cases in one year

Crit Care Med. 1989 Jun;17(6):530-3. doi: 10.1097/00003246-198906000-00009.


The last events before death were analyzed in 258 patients who died in our ICU. Deepening coma (104 patients) and acute circulatory failure (90 patients) were the most common events preceding death. Catastrophic events accounted for only 12% of deaths. In 168 (65%) of 258 patients, death was considered inevitable and CPR was not performed. Furthermore, 22 (9%) patients were allowed to die after withdrawal of intensive care support. These observations indicate that most deaths are expected in the ICU and that "do-not-resuscitate" orders can be reasonably given in the majority of fatal cases. Moreover, complete withdrawal of intensive care support should be considered as a reasonable option in hopeless patients. Since circulatory shock was identified as the most common potentially reversible problem, better prevention and management of acute circulatory failure are needed to improve survival.

MeSH terms

  • Cause of Death*
  • Coma / mortality
  • Euthanasia, Passive
  • Female
  • Heart Arrest / mortality
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Resuscitation
  • Shock / mortality