Stroke Following Attempted Suicide
Frequency, Mechanisms, Outcome and Review of the Literature

Stroke Following Attempted Suicide

Original Article
Swiss Arch Neurol Psychiatr Psychother. 2024;175(02):41-47

a Stroke Center, Neurology Service, Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University Hospital and University of Lausanne, Switzerland
b Psychiatric Liaison Service at the University Hospital and University of Lausanne, Switzerland
c Stroke Unit, Neurology Service, Cantonal Hospital of Biel, Switzerland
d Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University, Saitama, Japan

Published on 17.04.2024


Background: Only a few patients with strokes following a suicide attempt (SFSA) are described in the literature. The best-known mechanism is the dissection of cervical arteries. We aimed to determine the frequency, clinical presentation, mechanisms, and outcomes of SFSA patients in one academic institution and in all patients reported in the literature.
Method: We retrospectively identified all SFSA in the Acute Stroke Registry and Analysis of Lausanne (ASTRAL) from 2003 to 2021. A thorough workup was performed to establish the stroke mechanism. We also searched for all published SFSA cases in the worldwide literature for further analysis of demographics, comorbidities, and medium-term outcome.
Results: In our center, SFSA frequency was six out of 6,767 patients (0.0009%), with 83% being male. Comparing all reported 22 patients (own and published) to non-SFSA patients in ASTRAL, SFSA patients were younger (median 51 vs 75 years), had higher National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale scores on admission (median 13 vs 6) and higher three-months mortality (36 vs 15%). The most frequent mechanism was carotid dissection from hanging (41%), however, multiple other stroke mechanisms have been found or suspected.
Conclusions: SFSA are rare and seem to affect younger patients presenting with more severe strokes and higher medium-term mortality. While carotid dissection emerged as the predominant cause, several other stroke mechanisms have been identified.
Keywords: Carotid dissection; disorders of adult personality and behaviour; stroke; suicide attempt; vascular disorders


Ischemic stroke is one of the leading causes of death and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) [1]. It is caused by multiple mechanisms including cardiac diseases, atherosclerosis, cervical artery dissection and microangiopathy. On the other hand, suicide too is a major public health issue, being the 15th leading cause of death worldwide [2] and self-harm accounting for a significant number of DALYs. Suicide attempts are approximately 20 times more frequent than completed suicides [2] and are the most important risk factor for subsequent suicides [3–6]. Although there is a debate about the exact proportion [7], most suicides are related to mental disorders [8], with mood disorders including bipolar disorders, substance use related disorders, schizophrenia and personality disorders being the most common diagnoses. Methods of suicide vary with time and between countries [2]. In 2021 in Switzerland, men attempted suicide by hanging (35%), firearm (20%), jumping from height (12%) or the tracks (11%), while women used hanging (23%), drug poisoning (22%), jumping from height (18%) or the tracks (14%) [9].
Whereas suicide, suicide attempts and depression are well studied following a stroke, strokes following a suicide attempt (SFSA) are rarely reported. In total, we identified 16 cases in the worldwide literature [10–25].
Given the limited information available, more data is needed to assess the quality of the current evaluation and management of SFSA at our institution and elsewhere. We report a consecutive series of SFSA over 18 years in a single University hospital adding the published cases from the literature to assess the clinical presentation, mechanisms, quality of management, and outcome of patients with SFSA in ours and other institutions.


We retrospectively reviewed the discharge diagnoses of all hospitalized patients between 2003 and 2021 using the Acute Stroke Registry and Analysis of Lausanne (ASTRAL), the associated ASTRAL-E (includes transient ischemic attacks [TIAs], subacute strokes, intracerebral hemorrhage) and the electronic hospital archives. ASTRAL is a prospective cohort of all acute ischemic stroke patients admitted to the stroke unit and/or intensive care unit of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (CHUV) within 24 hours of the last known well [26]. Stroke was defined according to the WHO definition as “a new syndrome of rapidly developing clinical symptoms and/or signs of focal disturbance of cerebral function lasting longer than 24 hours with no apparent cause other than vascular origin, regardless of whether infarction was evident on cerebral radio imaging” [27]. We defined SFSA as strokes within seven days following a suicide attempt and compared them to all other consecutive patients from ASTRAL. To ascertain that no SFSA were missed, we searched our electronic medical records combining the terms “stroke” or “TIA” with “suicide attempt” or “suicide”.
Demographics, vascular risk factors, and acute clinical and radiological findings were collected, including the type of suicide attempt, mechanism of stroke, initial clinical deficit and findings on neurovascular imaging. Psychiatric comorbidities were considered present if an ICD-10 diagnosis used in the Elixhauser Comorbidity Index “depression” or “psychosis” was documented in the medical records. Clinical outcome measured by the modified Rankin Scale (mRS) was determined at seven days and three months after stroke onset.
In addition, we performed a literature search on Medline from 1964 onwards using the terms “suicide attempt”, “stroke”, “hanging”, “near-drowning”, “hara-kiri”, “toxic ingestion”, “carotid dissection”, “vene/venous section” in English, as well as screening the references of identified articles for further reports in any language. Native-speaking physicians extracted data from articles published in languages other than English. National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale (NIHSS) and mRS were reconstructed from the clinical descriptions in the identified cases.
We calculated the SFSA frequency among all acute ischemic stroke patients during the observation period in ASTRAL and in all suicide attempts visiting our emergency department. Then we combined available data from our SFSA patients with those published and compared them with all non-SFSA patients from ASTRAL analyzing the baselines characteristics of both groups. Continuous variables were described as median ± interquartile range and categorical variables were expressed as percentages. Given the small number of patients in the SFSA group, only descriptive comparisons were reported.
The study was performed according to the guidelines of the cantonal ethics commission for research on humans of the Canton of Vaud. Although patients received a written information from the hospital that their routinely collected clinical data may be used for quality and scientific purposes, a patient’s decision to opt out from data analysis did not need to be considered because this was a quality assurance project of the diagnostic/treatment practice in our institutions. Such analyses aiming at the evaluation of treatment efficiency and safety for quality purposes fall outside the Swiss Human Research Act of 2011.


During the observational period, six out of 6,767 acute ischemic strokes (0.0009%), and six out of 14,587 suicide attempts (0.0004%) were identified as SFSA in our center. We excluded a 7th patient with a suicide attempt with a benzodiazepine overdose for not fulfilling our definition of SFSA.
Among the six patients included, five were male, with a median age of 47 years. The initial NIHSS score was four (median, range 0-7). The patients had few stroke risk factors and all of them had a history of psychiatric disorders (table 1).
The mechanisms leading to stroke varied and were linked to the type of suicide attempt. Two suicide attempts were by hanging, three by hemorrhage (two venesection and one arterial section — Hara-kiri), and one by drowning in a lake. The drowning patient (patient #1) had an embolus from insufficiently anticoagulated atrial fibrillation (AF) as the presumed stroke mechanism occurring simultaneously with the suicide attempt. In the hanging attempts (patients #2 and #5), the stroke mechanism was carotid dissection, whereas in the patients with extensive hemorrhage (patients #3, #4 and #6), several stroke mechanisms could be suspected: A) hypotension due to hypovolemia with border-zone infarction, B) activation of the coagulation cascade (e.g., factor VII expression) due to acute bleeding with systemic hypercoagulability, and/or C) hypothetic cardiac arrhythmia related to the activation of the coagulation cascade due to acute blood loss leading to thromboembolic stroke.
Below there is a summary of the circumstances of each SFSA patient (for further details see table 2).
Patient #1: Attempted drowning in a lake. The patient was found comatose, hypothermic (26.8 °C) and with a Glasgow Coma Scale of 8, leading to intubation. A moderate left hemisyndrome was not registered. After extubation on the next day, the diagnosis of a right deep middle cerebral artery (MCA) embolic stroke was made using computed tomography. The suicide attempt followed the diagnosis of a TIA due to a new onset AF five days earlier. A vitamin K antagonist had been started (international normalized ratio [INR] = 1.1 on admission). The likely stroke mechanism was AF related to insufficient anticoagulation. There was no psychiatric diagnosis except for an adjustment disorder following the TIA diagnosis.
Patient #2: Found hanging on a rope from a tree, probably after a few minutes. Right embolic MCA stroke from right internal carotid artery dissection. Diagnosed with recurrent major depressive disorder (MDD).
Patient #3: Venesection in the neck, both wrists and legs with a kitchen knife. The patient called the daughter afterwards. Suffered multilevel posterior circulation strokes with a fall of hemoglobin from 155 to 109. As indicated before, in patients with extensive hemorrhage (patients #3 and #4), several stroke mechanisms can be suspected. Figure 1 shows the neuroimaging for patient #3. The patient was diagnosed with recurrent MDD with psychotic features and a not otherwise specified personality disorder.
Figure 1: Acute (24 hours) non-contrast computed tomography from patient #3 with multilevel posterior circulation strokes.
Patient #4: Hara-kiri-like self-stabbing with a kitchen knife resulting in multiple thoracic and abdominal injuries requiring several blood transfusions. Potential stroke mechanisms after extensive hemorrhage apply. Acute neuroimaging showed bihemispheric strokes (fig. 2). The patient was diagnosed with MDD with psychotic features. The patient committed in-hospital suicide by defenestration after having been transferred from the intensive care unit to the visceral surgery division four days after the initial suicide attempt.
Figure 2: Subacute non-contrast computed tomography (left) and diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (right) from patient #4 with bihemispheric strokes.
Patient #5: Found hanging from a balcony after five minutes. Suffered from occlusive dissection of the left common and internal carotid artery. Patient was suspected to have a bipolar disorder.
Patient #6: Self-inflicted stab resulting in a cervicotomy and phlebotomy of the palmar side of the left wrist. Cardiac arrest with low-flow duration of five minutes. Suffered from multiple bilateral ischemic lesions in the parieto-occipital territories and the junctional regions. The patient was diagnosed with an acute and transient psychotic disorder combined with cannabis and cocaine dependence.
One patient exhibited clinical signs of post-anoxic encephalopathy, which was confirmed by a subacute magnetic resonance imaging. None of the patients underwent thrombolysis. All patients received 100 mg of acetylsalicylic acid following confirmation of the stroke. Patient #1 (confirmed AF) received long-term and patient #5 transitory oral anticoagulation, respectively.
The overall clinical outcome was positive, with a mRS of 0 at three months in four patients. Patient #4, who committed in-hospital suicide had had no major neurologic deficit at that time. Patient #6 had a Heidelberg's anti-step splint for walking (mRS of 1).
Psychiatric comorbidity included acute depressive episodes (n = 2, one after a recent TIA), recurrent depressive disorder (n = 2, one with a previous suicide attempt), and acute and transient psychotic disorder (n = 1). Patient #5 was not formally evaluated by a psychiatrist but had a suspected bipolar disorder.
After reviewing the literature, we found 16 other cases from 1989 to 2023 [10–25]. As in our case series, variable suicide methods led to different types of strokes (table 3).
When comparing all 22 SFSA patients to the non-SFSA patients in the ASTRAL registry, we found the SFSA patients to be significantly younger (median age of 51 vs 75 years), with 83% being male. SFSA patients also had higher admission NIHSS scores (median of 13 vs. 6) and higher mortality rates at three months (36 vs 15%). The six patients in our center exhibited a higher incidence of psychiatric comorbidities. The most common stroke mechanism was carotid dissection due to hanging (41%), but several other stroke mechanisms have been identified or were suspected.


This retrospective review of SFSA in a single institution and in the literature shows that this association is exceedingly rare and that the underlying stroke mechanisms are heterogeneous. Given that this is, in part, a quality assurance project, compared to other stroke patients, patients with SFSA are younger, most of them are male and have a higher incidence of psychiatric comorbidities. The observed three months mortality rate was about two times higher in SFSA patients compared to the older control group.
Various mechanisms of SFSA have been identified, with carotid artery dissection from hanging being the most frequent. Given that hanging is the most common method of suicide reported in Switzerland, it is likely that cervical artery dissection is the most prevalent mechanism of stroke among the studied population. During the observation period, out of the 14,587 suicide attempts documented in our center, only six patients were identified with SFSA. This data underscores the rarity of stroke following a suicide attempt.
Regarding psychiatric comorbidities, we found a significant difference between the observed cases in our center and the ASTRAL database. All six patients suffered from a significant psychiatric illness, compared to only 12.4% in non-SFSA stroke patients. This difference can be explained by the fact that psychiatric disorders are the most common cause for completed and attempted suicide including severe suicide attempts, defined as a suicide attempt that “would have been fatal had it not been for rapid and effective pre-hospital care or other emergency treatment, or in some cases, chance” [28].
The neurological outcome of our six patients was mostly good. However, the overall three months mortality in all 22 reported cases was significantly higher compared to other stroke patients, despite the lower age. One of our patients committed suicide shortly after the suicide attempt, and the seven other patients who died according to the literature, did so from complications following the stroke, that would be massive cerebral infarction of the territory of both anterior and left middle cerebral arteries [10, 18, 20, 22, 23, 25], diffuse encephalomalacia, and hemorrhagic alveolar and interstitial lung edema [12]. This confirms the potential traumatic severity of suicide attempts.
In conclusion, SFSA is exceedingly rare, but presents a unique clinical challenge due to the complex etiology involving both physical and psychiatric factors. Compared to general stroke patients, those with SFSA seem to be younger, predominantly male, have more severe strokes, and a higher medium-term mortality. The most common cause of SFSA in our study group was carotid artery dissection due to hanging, reflecting the high prevalence of this suicide method in Switzerland. Despite the elevated mortality rate, the possibility of favorable neurological outcomes for SFSA patients exists, indicating that with timely and suitable intervention, recovery may be achievable. Considering the rarity of SFSA relative to the total number of suicide attempts, there is a need for increased awareness among healthcare professionals to ensure that these cases are recognized and managed appropriately.
Mauro Silva Stroke Center, University Hospital and University of Lausanne, Switzerland
Mauro Silva
Stroke Center, Neurology Service, Department of Clinical Neurosciences
University Hospital and University of Lausanne
Rue du Bugnon 46
CH-1005 Lausanne
1 Feigin VL, Forouzanfar MH, Krishnamurthi R, Mensah GA, Connor M, Bennett DA, et al.; Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2010 (GBD 2010), GBD Stroke Experts Group. Global and regional burden of stroke during 1990-2010: findings from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet. 2014 Jan;383(9913):245-54.
2 Fleischmann A, De Leo D. The World Health Organization’s report on suicide: a fundamental step in worldwide suicide prevention. Crisis. 2014;35(5):289-91.
3 Harris EC, Barraclough B. Suicide as an outcome for mental disorders. A meta-analysis. Br J Psychiatry. 1997 Mar;170(3):205-28.
4 Jenkins R. Addressing suicide as a public-health problem. Lancet. 2002 Mar;359(9309):813-4.
5 Suominen K, Isometsä E, Suokas J, Haukka J, Achte K, Lönnqvist J. Completed suicide after a suicide attempt: a 37-year follow-up study. Am J Psychiatry. 2004 Mar;161(3):562-3.
6 Tidemalm D, Långström N, Lichtenstein P, Runeson B. Risk of suicide after suicide attempt according to coexisting psychiatric disorder: Swedish cohort study with long term follow-up. BMJ. 2008 Nov;337:a2205.
7 Milner A, Sveticic J, De Leo D. Suicide in the absence of mental disorder? A review of psychological autopsy studies across countries. Int J Soc Psychiatry. 2013 Sep;59(6):545-54.
8 Bertolote JM, Fleischmann A, De Leo D, Wasserman D. Psychiatric diagnoses and suicide: revisiting the evidence. Crisis. 2004;25(4):147-55.
9 Office fédéral de la santé publique (OFSP), Conférence suisse des directrices et directeurs cantonaux de la santé (CDS), fondation Promotion Santé Suisse. (2016, November 16). La prévention du suicide en Suisse: Contexte, mesures à prendre et plan d’action. Rapport du Conseil fédéral.
10 Onishi H, Ito H, Ikeda K, Higashi S, Hayase H, Toma Y. [Cerebral artery occlusion due to blunt cervical trauma]. No Shinkei Geka. 1989 Jun;17(6):579-84. Japanese.
11 Noguchi K, Matsuoka Y, Hohda K, Katsuyama J, Nishimura S. [A case of common carotid artery stenosis due to hanging]. No Shinkei Geka. 1992 Nov;20(11):1185-8. Japanese.
12 Hausmann R, Betz P. Delayed death after attempted suicide by hanging. Int J Legal Med. 1997;110(3):164-6.
13 Ikenaga T, Kajikawa M, Kajikawa H, Yamamura K, Wakabayashi C, Sumioka S, et al. [Unilateral dissection of the cervical portion of the internal carotid artery and ipsilateral multiple cerebral infarctions caused by suicidal hanging: a case report]. No Shinkei Geka. 1996 Sep;24(9):853-8. Japanese.
14 Garaci FG, Bazzocchi G, Velari L, Gaudiello F, Goldstein AL, Manenti G, et al. Cryptogenic stroke in hanging. A case report. Neuroradiol J. 2009 Aug;22(4):386-90.
15 Šupe S, Poljaković Z, Habek M, Pavliša G, Stojanović-Špehar S. A near-hanging patient with PTSD and acute stroke - an unusual condition for “off label” thrombolysis. Psychiatr Danub. 2013 Jun;25(2):185-7.
16 Nishiyori Y, Nishida M, Shioda K, Suda S, Kato S. Unilateral hippocampal infarction associated with an attempted suicide: a case report. J Med Case Rep. 2014 Jun;8(1):219.
17 Samniah N, Schlaeffer F. Cerebral infarction associated with oral verapamil overdose. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 1988;26(5-6):365-9.
18 Blanco Pampín J, Morte Tamayo N, Hinojal Fonseca R, Payne-James JJ, Jerreat P. Delayed presentation of carotid dissection, cerebral ischemia, and infarction following blunt trauma: two cases. J Clin Forensic Med. 2002 Sep;9(3):136-40.
19 Takeuchi S, Takasato Y, Homma M. Neurological picture. Reversible posterior leukoencephalopathy syndrome caused by hanging. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2009 Aug;80(8):908-9.
20 Kadic L, Maandag NJ, Janssen CM, Driessen JJ, Kool LJ. An unexpected outcome of cervical near-hanging injury. A case report. Acta Anaesthesiol Belg. 2010;61(2):79-81.
21 Abedini M, Fatehi F, Tabrizi N. Ischemic stroke as a rare manifestation of aluminum phosphide poisoning: a case report. Acta Med Iran. 2014;52(12):947-9.
22 Prevel R, Garcon P, Philippart F. An uncommon pulmonary embolism. Int J Crit Illn Inj Sci. 2015;5(1):50-2.
23 Garg D, Lim T, Irani M. A rare case of fatal stroke after ethylene glycol toxicity. BMJ Case Rep. 2015 Mar;2015:bcr2014208855.
24 Wick M, Schneiker A, Bele S, Pawlik M, Meyringer H, Graf B, et al. Kleinhirninfarkt nach CO-Intoxikation und hyperbarer Sauerstofftherapie [Cerebellar Infarction After Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy]. Anasthesiol Intensivmed Notfallmed Schmerzther. 2017 Jun;52(6):463-70.
25 Kibayashi K, Shimada R, Nakao KI. Delayed death due to traumatic dissection of the common carotid artery after attempted suicide by hanging. Med Sci Law. 2019 Jan;59(1):17-9.
26 Michel P, Odier C, Rutgers M, Reichhart M, Maeder P, Meuli R, et al. The Acute STroke Registry and Analysis of Lausanne (ASTRAL): design and baseline analysis of an ischemic stroke registry including acute multimodal imaging. Stroke. 2010 Nov;41(11):2491-8.
27 Hatano S. Experience from a multicentre stroke register: a preliminary report. Bull World Health Organ. 1976;54(5):541-53.
28 Levi-Belz Y, Beautrais A. Serious Suicide Attempts. Crisis. 2016 Jul;37(4):299-309.
We would like to acknowledge the help of Dr Alexander Salerno MD, for his assistance in providing access to comparative data from the ASTRAL.
Ethics Statement
The study was performed according to the guidelines of the cantonal ethics commission for research on humans of the Canton of Vaud.
Conflict of Interest Statement
MS and MN reported no financial support and no other potential conflict of interest.
PC received a research grant from the Pierrette Rayle and John Gomery neurovascular fellowship.
LM received a research grant from the Swiss Cancer League.
PM received research grants from the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Swiss Heart Foundation, and the University of Lausanne. He is a member of the Data Safety Monitoring Board for CLOSE-2 (Closure of patent foramen ovale or anticoagulants versus antiplatelet therapy to prevent stroke recurrence) and of the Steering Committee for ELAN (Early vs Late initiation of direct Anticoagulants in post-ischemic stroke patients with atrial fibrillation).
Author Contributions
MS: Major contributor to design, acquisition, analysis, interpretation of data, writing, and revising the article.
LM: Significant contributions to design, analysis, interpretation of data, and revising the article.
PC and MN: Substantial contributions to data analysis and interpretation, and article revision.
PM: Substantial contribution to design, analysis, interpretation of data, and writing and revising the article.