Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 136–139 | Cite as

Intestinal obstruction as a cause of death in the mentally disabled

  • Danica Cvetković
  • Vladimir Živković
  • Irina Damjanjuk
  • Slobodan NikolićEmail author
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Two cases of intestinal obstruction in the mentally disabled are reported. The first case concerns 61-year-old oligophrenic woman who resided in a nursing home, where she was found hypotensive and unresponsive. Upon opening the peritoneal cavity at autopsy, extremely dilated (measuring on average 12 cm in diameter) loops of the colon emerged– they compressed the small intestine and other intraperitoneal organs, lifting both hemidiaphragms deep into the pleural cavity. Lodged firmly into the rectum, a partly disintegrated sanitary pad was found. In the second case, young man with Down syndrome was found dead in his room in a nursing facility. At autopsy, a massively dilated stomach and intestinal loops emerged, interposing one of the loops between the liver and right hemidiaphragm (pushing it to the 3rd intercostal space). This was caused by a volvulus – the cecum, the entire ascending colon and hepatic flexure were gangrenous, dilated (the maximum diameter was 15 cm) and twisted in a full circle around the mesenteric attachment. There were no signs of colon perforation. In both cases, intellectual disability was at the core of poor communication and delayed medical treatment, which led to a fatal outcome. Caregivers must be trained to recognize distress in the mentally disabled, especially since the symptoms and signs of gastrointestinal diseases may be subtle, or at least less recognizable. By performing careful physical examination medical staff should search more cautiously for these signs. Any suspicion of mistreatment or neglect of the mentally impaired requires a medico-legal investigation and autopsy.


Autopsy Mentally disabled Down syndrome Intestinal obstruction Volvulus 



This work was supported by Ministry of Science of Republic of Serbia, Grant No. 45005.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors hereby declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Forensic MedicineUniversity of Belgrade – School of MedicineBelgradeSerbia

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