Case of Sudden Cardiac Arrest at the Airport Revealing Cocaine Body Packing

Cardiac Arrest
Drug smuggling by body packing in a patient presenting sudden cardiac arrest in the airport.
  • Ingestion of large amounts of cocaine is a common method of transporting the drug cross border.
  • If the packets rupture, it can result in life-threatening symptoms of intestinal obstruction, seizures, ventricular dysrhythmia, and cardiac arrest.
  • This article describes a similar case of cocaine toxicity.

This article reports the case of a 34-year-old pregnant woman who had a sudden cardiac arrest while she was waiting for her bags at an airport in France. On examination, the patient was found with 50 cocaine packages, out of which 5 had ruptured, causing the symptoms.

The patient suddenly became agitated and convulsed. The airport medical services arrived at the situation right on time. The flight attendant revealed that the patient complained of abdominal pain when on the flight from Brazil. Her Glasgow coma scale score was 6, blood pressure 175/104 mmHg, heart rate 136/min and 93% SpO2. Other symptoms included intense sweat, bilateral mydriasis and general seizures. The medical prehospital emergency team successfully resuscitated the patient and referred her to the medical intensive care unit (ICU).

The patient was relatively stable on hospital admission.

Doctors intubated her and mechanically ventilated her. Pulmonary auscultation showed limited crepitation. The rest of the physical examination was unremarkable. Electrocardiogram showed irregular tachycardia with an enlarged QRS complex. Pregnancy screening was positive. The patient was supposedly in her first trimester. However, the exact term of the pregnancy was unknown. Urine cocaine screening came back positive. The patient’s symptoms led the doctors to suspecting cocaine body packing. To confirm the diagnosis, doctors performed an abdominal X-ray which showed multiple bags of cocaine in her gastrointestinal tract.

Her cardiovascular situation became worse soon after admission.

After admission to the ICU, there was a rapid onset of ventricular tachycardia accompanied with a decrease in blood pressure. Doctors transferred her to the operating room and performed an immediate laparotomy. And retrieved 50 packets of cocaine from the patient, out of which 5 had ruptured. The patient’s condition improved with weaning sedation. She was extubated 24 h post surgery. However, while at the hospital the patient contracted hospital-acquired pneumonia. Doctors discharged the patient on the 4th day with no neurological symptoms. She gave birth to a healthy baby a few months later.


Cardiac Arrest in the Airport Revealing Cocaine Body Packing: A Case Report

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Dr. Aiman Shahab is a dentist with a bachelor’s degree from Dow University of Health Sciences. She is an experienced freelance writer with a demonstrated history of working in the health industry. Skilled in general dentistry, she is currently working as an associate dentist at a private dental clinic in Karachi, freelance content writer and as a part time science instructor with Little Medical School. She has also been an ambassador for PDC in the past from the year 2016 – 2018, and her responsibilities included acting as a representative and volunteer for PDC with an intention to make the dental community of Pakistan more connected and to work for benefiting the underprivileged. When she’s not working, you’ll either find her reading or aimlessly walking around for the sake of exploring. Her future plans include getting a master’s degree in maxillofacial and oral surgery, settled in a metropolitan city of North America.


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