From the Journals

Near-hanging injuries: Critical care, psychiatric management


Suicide by hanging results in many deaths, and half of those survivors who are admitted later die from cardiac arrest.

Although hanging is a common form of suicide, studies of the clinical outcomes of near-hanging injury are rare. To address this void, Louise de Charentenay, MD, of the Medical-Surgical Intensive Care Unit, Centre Hospitalier de Versailles (France) and colleagues examined the vital and functional outcomes of more than 800 patients with suicidal near-hanging injury over 2 decades. Despite the high in-hospital mortality rate among survivors, those who do survive have an excellent chance of a full neurocognitive recovery. The investigators published their findings in Chest.

New data on near-hanging injuries

Near hanging refers to strangulation or hanging that doesn’t immediately lead to death. Little data have been available on this subject, particularly on the morbidity and mortality of patients admitted to the ICU following near-hanging injuries. In a retrospective analysis spanning 23 years (1992-2014), researchers looked at outcomes and early predictors of hospital deaths in patients with this injury. The study included 886 adult patients who were admitted to 31 university or university-affiliated ICUs in France and Belgium following successful resuscitation of suicidal near-hanging injury.

Investigators used logistic multivariate regression to report vital and functional outcomes at hospital discharge as a primary objective. They also aimed to identify predictors of hospital mortality in these patients.

Among all patients, 450 (50.8%) had hanging-induced cardiac arrest and of these, 371 (95.4%) eventually died. Although the rate of crude hospital deaths decreased over the 23-year period, hanging-induced cardiac arrest emerged as the strongest predictor of hospital mortality, followed by high blood lactate and hyperglycemia at ICU admission. “Hanging-induced cardiac arrest and worse consciousness impairment at ICU admission are directly related to the hanging, whereas higher glycemia and lactate levels at ICU admission represent biochemical markers of physiologic perturbation and injury severity that may suggest avenues for improvement in prehospital care,” wrote the investigators.

More than 56% of the patients survived to discharge, with a majority achieving favorable outcomes (a Glasgow Outcome Scale scores of 4 or 5 at discharge).

‘COVID-lateral’ damage and ICU management

Casey D. Bryant, MD, of the department of anesthesiology and the department of emergency medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Health, Winston-Salem, N.C., has treated these patients in the ICU and is prepared to see more of them in light of the current situation. He said in an interview, “The “COVID-lateral” damage being unleashed on the population as a result of increased isolation, lack of access to resources, higher unemployment, and increased substance abuse was detailed recently in an article by one of my colleagues, Dr. Seth Hawkins (Emerg Med News. 2020 Jun;42[6]:1,31-2). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hanging is the second leading cause of suicide in the United States, and one can only assume that with increased mental health crises there will also be an increased number of hanging attempts.”

Dr. Casey D. Bryant, Wake Forest Baptist Health, Winston-Salem, N.C.

Dr. Casey D. Bryant

Dr. Bryant suggested that the first task of doctors who learn that a near-hanging patient has been admitted is to “recover from the gut-punch you feel when you learn that a fellow human has tried to take their own life.” Once one is composed, he said, the first order of business is to come up with a treatment plan, one that typically begins with the airway. “These patients are at a high risk for cervical vertebrae injury (e.g., hangman’s fracture), spinal cord injury, tracheal injury, and neck vessel injury or dissection, so care must be taken to maintain in-line stabilization and limit movement of the neck during intubation while also being prepared for all manner of airway disasters. After airway management, addressing traumatic injuries, and initial stabilization, the focus then shifts to ‘bread and butter’ critical care, including optimization of ventilator management, titration of analgosedation, providing adequate nutrition, and strict avoidance of hypoxia, hypotension, fever, and either hyper- or hypoglycemia.”

Dr. Bryant noted that targeted temperature management prescriptions remain an area of debate in those with comatose state after hanging, but fever should absolutely be avoided. He added: “As the path to recovery begins to be forged, the full gamut of mental health resources should be provided to the patients in order to give them the best chance for success once they leave the ICU, and ultimately the hospital.”

The different hospitals seemed to have varying degrees of success in saving these patients, which is surprising, Mangala Narasimhan, DO, FCCP, regional director of critical care, director of the acute lung injury/ECMO center at Northwell and a professor of medicine at the Hofstra/Northwell School of Medicine, New York, said in an interview. “Usually, the death rate for cardiac arrest is high and the death rate for hanging is high. But here, it was high in some places and low in others.” Different time frames from presenting from hanging and different treatments may explain this, said Dr. Narasimhan.


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