International Journal of Health & Allied Sciences

: 2020  |  Volume : 9  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 181--187

Secondary data analysis of postmortem examination records at a teaching hospital in Northern India

Kunal Khanna1, Vijay Pal1, Anil Kumar Malik2, Tarun Dagar3, Varun Garg4, Madhur Verma5,  
1 Department of Forensic Medicine, Kalpana Chawla Govt. Medical College, Karnal, Haryana, India
2 Department of Forensic Medicine, Maharishi Markandeshwar Medical College and Hospital, Solan, Himachal Pradesh, India
3 Department of Forensic Medicine, Dr. Radhakrishnan Govt. Medical College, Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh, India
4 Department of Forensic Medicine, Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar Hospital, Rohini, Delhi, India
5 Department of Community and Family Medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Bathinda, Punjab, India

Correspondence Address:
Anil Kumar Malik
Department of Forensic Medicine, Maharishi Markandeshwar Medical College and Hospital, Solan . 173 229, Himachal Pradesh


INTRODUCTION: Mortality data help in identifying the leading cause of death in populations and provide evidence to prioritize of disease prevention efforts. This study aims to describe the age and gender distribution and analyze the causes of fatalities certified after postmortem examinations to facilitate improved and more reliable certification of the cause of death. MATERIALS AND METHODS: This secondary data analysis is of data recorded from January 01, 2016, to December 31, 2017, in the postmortem registers of the forensic medicine and toxicology department of a medical college in Haryana. Probable time of death, time of conducting the postmortem examination, and the probable cause of death as per the police records are also entered in the register. The data were analyzed for age and gender distribution and cause of death. Diagnoses provided by postmortem examination were categorized. RESULTS: One thousand nine hundred and sixty-one postmortem examinations were conducted during the study period. About 52% of deceased persons belonged to the age group 21–40 years, 82.96% were male and 60% were from a rural area. Majority of deaths occurred at public places (57%). Deaths at home were more common among females (44%), while majority of deaths at public places occurred among males (59%). Unintentional deaths (74.50%) were more common. Deaths due to accidents were about 42.22%. CONCLUSION: Conventionally, the emphasis of postmortem examination has been viewed as serving the inquest. However, they now have an important role within public health such as surveillance and causes of death. There is a strong obligation to generate reliable information for formulating effective intervention policies.

How to cite this article:
Khanna K, Pal V, Malik AK, Dagar T, Garg V, Verma M. Secondary data analysis of postmortem examination records at a teaching hospital in Northern India.Int J Health Allied Sci 2020;9:181-187

How to cite this URL:
Khanna K, Pal V, Malik AK, Dagar T, Garg V, Verma M. Secondary data analysis of postmortem examination records at a teaching hospital in Northern India. Int J Health Allied Sci [serial online] 2020 [cited 2020 Jun 1 ];9:181-187
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Ever since G. B. Morgagni first showed the scientific value of autopsies, many reasons have arisen for carrying out autopsies over the centuries.[1] Besides improving the medical science and extending help in an inquest, mortality data are essential to understand the underlying health of a population.[2],[3] Mortality data can supplement the health administrations to identify the leading causes of deaths in a population. It can also provide evidence to prioritize disease prevention efforts.[4],[5] Such data assist governments in allocating scarce resources for epidemiological research.[6] A postmortem examination (autopsy and necropsy) is a standard, current medical procedure performed in a surgical manner, through which a thorough check of tissues and organs of a human body after death, aiming at determining the cause of death, of mechanisms that lead to that outcome, shortly said tanatogenesis.[7]

Detailed morphological and topographical conditions can be determined only through postmortem examination, allowing correlating clinical and anatomical aspects. Data obtained through postmortem examination are essential because not only it establishes the leading cause of death but also it can clarify associated pathology, treatment response, and disease evolution. Autopsies allow doctors to correct, clarify, and confirm the antemortem clinical diagnosis; this way, physicians may improve their medical knowledge, can train their ability for diagnosis, and apply this knowledge into future practice.[8] Medical education is from far the greatest beneficiary of the postmortem examination, as it is a significant valuable learning tool which helps understand basics of pathology, of aspects regarding uncertainties in clinical practice, of social and psychological issues related to death, and necessity of high-quality standard in medical health care.

Regarding the public health-care policies, a forensic autopsy is performed to prove any causal relationship between the accident and the death, identify the vehicle at fault, and determine the cause of the accident. Besides that, postmortem examination holds great potential for public health surveillance and represents a tool for establishing cost/efficiency report and assessing how adequate resources are distributed. Considering a wide range of diseases, it is imperative that allocating resources should be based on epidemiology studies, on death certificates, and statistic data about life.[9] Causes of death ascertained by postmortem examination are a subset of the total number of deaths registered in an area. This study aims to describe the age and gender distribution and analyze the causes of fatalities certified after postmortem examinations to facilitate improved and more reliable certification of the cause of death.

 Materials and Methods

Study setting

This is a secondary data analysis of postmortem registers data that were recorded from January 01, 2016, to December 31, 2017, in the Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, Kalpana Chawla Government Medical College, Karnal, in the state of Haryana in Northern India. The terrain of the district is plain and has a population of about 2.8 lakhs and is situated on one of the busiest highways of North India. The department is currently conducting postmortem examinations of death that have occurred within the district of Karnal. This is also the only functional postmortem examination center in the area.

Data source

The postmortem registers are maintained by the department exclusively for each year. Data are entered by the doctors conducting the postmortem examination. The various columns include sociodemographic characteristics of the deceased person, along with the details of the accompanying person and police officers. Probable time of death, time of conducting the postmortem examination, and probable cause of death as per the police records are also entered in the register. For our study, data were collected using a predesigned format from postmortem registers/records, inquest papers, and postmortem reports maintaining confidentiality.

Operational definitions

For the purpose of maintaining uniformity, standard definitions were used and injuries were classified based on “intentionality.” All the road traffic injuries, poisoning, falls, fire and burn injuries, and drowning were labeled as unintentional, while the intentional injuries included interpersonal violence (homicide, sexual assault, neglect and abandonment, and other maltreatment), suicide, and collective violence (war).[10]

Ethical clearance

Since it was secondary data analysis, ethical approval was waived off by the Institutional Ethics Committee of Kalpana Chawla Government Medical College, Karnal. However, prior permission was sought from the institutional authorities for conducting the study.

Statistical analysis

The data were double entered in Microsoft Excel worksheet and were cross-validated by the primary investigator. Analysis of the data was carried out using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) for Windows version 17.0, released 2008 (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA). The data were analyzed for age and gender distribution and cause of death. Diagnoses provided by postmortem examination were categorized.


Background characteristics and age-pattern of the deceased

A total of 1961 postmortem examinations were conducted during the study period. Their background characteristics are depicted in [Table 1]. Around 52% (n = 1030) of the deceased persons belonged to the age group of 21–40 years. Around 83% (1627) deceased were male and 60% (n = 1192) belonged from a rural area. Overall, most of the deaths were reported from public places (57%), followed by at home (29%), private health facilities (29%), and government facilities (4%). Deaths among females were more common in urban areas (60%; 202 of 334 deaths among females) and at home (44%). However, in males, more deaths occurred in rural areas (65%; 1064 of 1627deaths among males) and in public places (59%). Majority of the deceased were unemployed, retired, or homemakers. About three-fourth of the deaths (74.50%) were reported to be unintentional, while only 3% had an intentional motive behind them and nearly one-fifth of the deaths (19.47%) were due to self-harm. In about 2.07% of the cases, the intention behind the death was not known or not recorded. Unintentional deaths were more common among males (78%), while deaths due to self-harm were more common among females (36%).{Table 1}

[Table 2] depicts the age pattern among the deceased received for postmortem examination. There was an increasing peak with a maximum number of deaths observed in 21–30 years age group (29%), after which the proportion of deaths starts declining with increasing age.{Table 2}

Cause of death

[Table 3] depicts the gender-wise cause of death among the deceased. Road traffic accidents (RTA) were the most common cause of deaths in both males and females. About 12% of deaths were reported with a natural cause, i.e., age related and were more among males (13.33%) as compared to females (6.88%). Poisoning was a third-most common cause of death (11.98%) and was more common among females (21.25%) compared to males (10.07%). Other causes of deaths included drowning, hanging, railway accidents, and electrocution that were responsible for 7.08%, 7.54%, 4.9%, and 3.62% of deaths, respectively. Less than 1% of deaths were also directly reported due to medical negligence.{Table 3}

Majority of deaths due to RTA occurred between 21 and 40 years of age. RTA was the major cause of death among all the age groups. It constituted about 41% of total deaths in 21–40 years' age group, followed by 46% in 0–20 years' age group and 44% in >40 years' age group. Drowning (16.96%), poisoning (12.52%), and natural deaths (17.66%) were the second major causes of deaths in 0–20 years', 21–40 years', and >40 years' age groups [Table 4]. Deaths due to self-harm were more common in 21–40 years (21.26%) and >40 years age group (19.27%).{Table 4}

[Table 5] depicts the distribution of deceased persons bought for postmortem examination in Kalpana Chawla Government Medical College between January 2016 and December 2017 on the basis of the intention behind the death. It was observed that most of the intentional and unintentional deaths occurred between 0 and 20 years of age (4% and 83%). Intentional could not be assessed in around 2.70% of the deceased. This association between age-groups and intention behind death was statistically significant as per the Chi-square test (P < 0.001).{Table 5}


The present prospective study was conducted at the Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, Kalpana Chawla Government Medical College, Karnal. Of the total 1961 postmortem cases, male outnumbered females by a ratio of approximately 5:1. Men's higher unintentional injury, suicide, and homicide mortality rates are observed in all age groups in low-, middle-, and high-income countries, as observed in the previous studies.[11],[12],[13],[14] Gender disparities in unnatural deaths such as injury and RTA are invariable and unrelenting. Men are more likely than women to die of almost every disease and illness and to die earlier. Gender patterns in unnatural death mortality do not follow typical social justice analyses of health, in which men are at greater risk.[15] Males are more exposed to the outside environment and are more susceptible to accidents and violence. They are considered as bread earners and females usually being confined to home doing household work. Majority of the cases were in the age group of 21–40 (52%) years, which is the most productive year in one's life. This is because persons belonging to this age group are active, mobile, and energetic. The young individuals are short tempered and quickly become emotional, which results in violence. These results were also similar to other studies.[11],[16] Younger individuals also have a risk-taking behavior and thus engage in activities which are otherwise dangerous. About 60% of the deceased were from the rural area. Other studies such as the fatal traffic crash research have also indicated that fatality rates in rural areas are higher than in urban areas.[17] This high proportion can also be attributed to a lack of timely care in rural areas.

About 57% of the deaths occurred in public places, while 29% were at home. About 9% and 4% of the deaths occurred at private health and government facilities, respectively. Deaths at home were more common among females, while majority deaths at public places occurred among males. Unintentional deaths (74.50%) were more common than intentional deaths (3.31%) and death due to self-harm (19.47%). Unintentional deaths were more common among males, while deaths due to self-harm were more common among females. Deaths due to self-harm were more common among 21–40 years' age group. Various other studies have reported similar results.[11] However, Jagnoor et al. also reported that unintentional injury constituted nearly 7% of all deaths and the unintentional injury mortality rates were higher among males than females, in rural versus urban areas, and in those aged 70 years or older.[18] This differences may be due to the reluctance of the relatives to go for postmortem examinations in older people.

In our study, RTAs were the leading cause of death and males depicted higher mortality, similar to the pattern depicted by another study.[11] Jagnoor et al. depicted road traffic injuries, falls, and drowning as the three leading causes of unintentional injury mortality, with fire-related injury causing 5% of these deaths.[18] This trend suggests that modernization and rapidity of the various means of transport have accelerated the pace of human life on one hand, while on the other, it has added to the woes of humanity. This situation is versed due to defects in vehicles and lack of observance of traffic rules as highlighted by other studies also.[19],[20]

In our study, majority of deaths due to RTA occurred in >40 years, followed by 21–40 years' age group. However, as per the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner India report, age group of 15–29 years had highest mortality due to vehicle accidents (13.7%) and intentional injuries including suicide (18.0% and 1.5%), while 5–14 years' age group had the highest mortality due to unintentional injuries other than motor vehicle accidents (20.5%).[21]

Besides RTAs, poisoning (11%), hanging (7%), and drowning (7%) were found to be a more common cause of unnatural deaths. Deaths due to poisoning and hanging were more common among females than males and more than 20 years of age. One of the most consistent findings in suicide research is that women make more suicide attempts than men, but men are more likely to die in their attempts than women.[22] A study from Sri Lanka depicted that males were significantly more likely to ingest agrochemicals, whereas females were more likely to overdose on pharmaceutical drugs. The interpersonal conflict was a common trigger associated with nonfatal self-poisoning for both males and females.[23] Another study states that males prefer more lethal methods (e.g., hanging), while the methods favored by females tend to be less lethal (e.g., overdose).[24] However, compared to suicides in high-income countries, suicide in India is more prevalent in women (particularly young women), is much more likely to involve ingestion of pesticides, is more closely associated with poverty, and is less closely associated with mental illness.[25] Suicide and deliberate self-harm activities are high priorities of mental health policy in India, as they are throughout the world.[26]

In our study, deaths due to drowning were higher in males in the age group of 0–20 years. Million death studies from India have also reported the highest mortality rates in the youngest age groups (i.e., in children younger than 5 years) in the Eastern and Northeastern regions of India, which are the delta areas for major rivers.[27] These causes of premature mortality are responsible for an annual loss of 74 healthy life-years per 1000 population.[28] Among >40 years of age group, deaths due to natural reasons were the second major cause of death after RTA. Natural deaths that have been subjected to postmortem examinations have been reported in a range between 3% and 21% cases.[29],[30]

The study had a few obvious limitations. Since it was a secondary data analysis of the existing records, some important research questions could not be answered. The reliability of the information provided by the attendants of the deceased is also questionable. Future studies should aim to highlight the main avoidable causes of death.


We understand that the present study highlights the major causes of unintentional injuries in our region. These data provide an impartial, real-world scenario of the modern-day epidemiology, disease burden, and underlying causes of sudden death due to injuries. Postmortem examinations are important sources of improvement of medical sciences including public health, and they provide us with a way to review the aggregate mortality data as defined by death certificates or conventional criteria in the community.

It is recommended to review the cause of death using uniform standards during the reporting of autopsies. This could lead to an improvement in the use of the data acquired through them. Mitigation of the rising burden of injuries and deaths due to avoidable causes should be amongst the urgent public health priorities. For this, it is essential to sensitize the policymakers from time to time, which is still a major challenge for most of the developing countries. There is a strong obligation for different stakeholders to come together and develop a model where medical colleges can play a leading role. This will help us to generate reliable information for formulating effective intervention policies.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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