Background: “Virtual” autopsy by postmortem computed tomography (PMCT) can replace medical autopsy to a certain extent but has limitations for cardiovascular diseases. These limitations might be overcome by adding multiphase PMCT angiography.
Objective: To compare virtual autopsy by multiphase PMCT angiography with medical autopsy.
Design: Prospective cohort study. (ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT01541995)
Setting: Single-center study at the University Medical Center Hamburg–Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany, between 1 April 2012 and 31 March 2013.
Patients: Hospitalized patients who died unexpectedly or within 48 hours of an event necessitating cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Measurements: Diagnoses from clinical records were compared with findings from both types of autopsy. New diagnoses identified by autopsy were classified as major or minor, depending on whether they would have altered clinical management.
Results: Of 143 eligible patients, 50 (35%) had virtual and medical autopsy. Virtual autopsy confirmed 93% of all 336 diagnoses identified from antemortem medical records, and medical autopsy confirmed 80%. In addition, virtual and medical autopsy identified 16 new major and 238 new minor diagnoses. Seventy-three of the virtual autopsy diagnoses, including 32 cases of coronary artery stenosis, were identified solely by multiphase PMCT angiography. Of the 114 clinical diagnoses classified as cardiovascular, 110 were confirmed by virtual autopsy and 107 by medical autopsy. In 11 cases, multiphase PMCT angiography showed “unspecific filling defects,” which were not reported by medical autopsy.
Limitation: These results come from a single center with concerted interest and expertise in postmortem imaging; further studies are thus needed for generalization.
Conclusion: In cases of unexpected death, the addition of multiphase PMCT angiography increases the value of virtual autopsy, making it a feasible alternative for quality control and identification of diagnoses traditionally made by medical autopsy.
Primary Funding Source: University Medical Center Hamburg–Eppendorf.