Volume 44, Issue 3 (May 1999)
Postmortem Diagnosis of Unsuspected Diabetes Mellitus Established by Determination of Decedent's Hemoglobin A1c Level
Although approximately 15.7 million Americans have diabetes mellitus, with the vast majority having type 2 diabetes, it is estimated that as many as 5.4 million are undiagnosed. The present case illustrates that undiagnosed diabetes can be a factor in otherwise unexplained deaths. A 39-year-old white male with no significant past medical history other than alcohol abuse was found deceased at his residence. The manner of death appeared to be natural, but no anatomic cause was found. Toxicological analysis revealed a blood ethanol level of 0.02 g/dL and was negative for drugs of abuse. Analysis of the vitreous fluid revealed a glucose level of 502 mg/dL. The blood glucose level was 499 mg/dL, and the hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) level was 10.6%. Only trace urine ketones were detected, suggesting that the death was the result of hyperglycemic hyperosmolar non-ketosis (HHNK) from unsuspected diabetes. The postmortem HbA1c value serves as a definitive indicator of prolonged hyperglycemia. In order to aid the interpretation of the clinical data, this case is discussed in conjunction with a similar case of a known diabetic patient.