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Deliberate self-poisoning: characteristics of patients and impact on the emergency department of a large university hospital


Study objective The epidemiology, management and cost of emergency department (ED) visits for deliberate self-poisoning (DSP) are described.

Methods In a retrospective study, the medical records of all DSP patients older than 16 years, who presented to the ED from 1 January 2009 to 31 December 2009, were reviewed.

Results 312 episodes of DSP were included, accounting for 0.6% of all ED visits. 190 patients were women, with a female to male ratio of 1.56:1. Mean patient age was 37 years. More than 60% (n=190) of DSP patients were <40 years of age. Most patients presented to the ED between 18:00 and 23:00. A single drug was ingested in 39% (n=121) of patients. Alcohol was co-ingested by 36% of patients who were mostly middle-aged men. Of the overdoses, 50.8% were due to benzodiazepines, 23.2% were due to antidepressants and 16.4% were due to antipsychotics. Two-thirds of patients were treated with oral activated charcoal and 89% were seen by a psychiatrist. Nearly 90% of patients were admitted to the ED observation ward, with a mean length of stay of 16.7 h. The estimated total cost was €;266 134.89, with an average of €;872.57 per patient.

Conclusion Self-poisoning cases in Belgium are grossly similar to those in other Western countries. Supportive treatment alone should be considered in the majority of patients presenting with oral drug overdose. Overall, DSP leads to a significant financial burden on the community.

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