Unexpected autopsy findings arising from postmortem ocular examination.
BACKGROUND: A full autopsy at our institution includes removal of the eyes for pathologic examination. To our knowledge, the rate of ophthalmic findings at autopsy has not been documented previously. DESIGN: We retrospectively reviewed 277 consecutive autopsies conducted between 1995 and 1999 in which the eyes were removed for examination. Ophthalmic findings were placed in the following categories: I, major findings included those that contributed to the patient's death, would have changed patient management, and/or may have important medical implications for close relatives; II, expected findings after ophthalmologic surgery and minor findings that may have eventually required treatment; and III, incidental findings. RESULTS: Major findings (category I) were found in 32% of autopsies. Minor findings (category II) and incidental findings (category III) were documented in 62% and 34% of autopsies, respectively. Only 14% of autopsies revealed no ophthalmologic diagnoses. CONCLUSION: In our series, postmortem ocular examination revealed a number of important findings, including several heritable and rare conditions. Eighty-six percent of autopsies disclosed at least one pathologic ophthalmologic finding, approximately one third of which demonstrated findings significant enough to have likely required management. Diabetic retinopathy was the most frequent major finding. Malignant melanoma of the choroid was the most commonly found intraocular neoplasm. Chronic uveitis was the most common minor finding. We conclude that important, often unexpected ophthalmic findings are frequently encountered at autopsy, underscoring the relevance of routine postmortem examination of the eyes.
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