Security Hunger-Strike Prisoners in the Emergency Department: Physiological and Laboratory Findings



      Medical treatment of hunger-strike patients, especially those in incarceration facilities, may pose clinical and treatment challenges for the treating physicians.


      The aim of our study is to describe the epidemiology and clinical and laboratory characteristics of hunger-strike prisoners presenting to the emergency department (ED) and to describe etiologies of hospitalization and complications among this group.


      We retrospectively examined clinical and laboratory manifestations of 50 hunger-strike prisoners who were referred for evaluation to the ED after a longstanding fast.


      After a mean of 38 (28-44) days of a hunger strike, the most common complaints were chest pain and abdominal pain (14/60 [23.3%], 13/60 [21.6%], respectively). Mean weight loss percentage was 18.5%, and most patients were bradycardic (25/40 [62.5%]), and some hypothermic (16/50, [32%]). We describe several laboratory disturbances observed in these patients; leukopenia was the most common hematologic manifestation (31/50 [62%]), and a prolonged international normalized ratio was observed in 12/29 (41.3%) patients. We hospitalized 12% of the patients; the most common hospitalization cause was bradycardia (3/6 [50%]).


      Our study found that the most common clinical symptom was chest pain, which has not been previously reported among hunger strikers. We observed a substantial number of laboratory disturbances due to muscle wasting and protein loss and due to presumed vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies. We suggest monitoring electrocardiograms for heart rate, blood count, chemistry, coagulation tests, and vitamin levels.


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