Classification of asphyxia: the need for standardization

J Forensic Sci. 2010 Sep;55(5):1259-67. doi: 10.1111/j.1556-4029.2010.01459.x. Epub 2010 Jun 17.


The classification of asphyxia and the definitions of subtypes are far from being uniform, varying widely from one textbook to another and from one paper to the next. Unfortunately, similar research designs can lead to totally different results depending on the definitions used. Closely comparable cases are called differently by equally competent forensic pathologists. This study highlights the discrepancies between authors and tries to draw mainstream definitions, to propose a unified system of classification. It is proposed to classify asphyxia in forensic context in four main categories: suffocation, strangulation, mechanical asphyxia, and drowning. Suffocation subdivides in smothering, choking, and confined spaces/entrapment/vitiated atmosphere. Strangulation includes three separate forms: ligature strangulation, hanging, and manual strangulation. As for mechanical asphyxia, it encompasses positional asphyxia as well as traumatic asphyxia. The rationales behind this proposed unified model are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Injuries / complications
  • Airway Obstruction / classification
  • Asphyxia / classification*
  • Confined Spaces
  • Drowning
  • Forensic Medicine
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / complications
  • Neck Injuries / complications
  • Posture
  • Thoracic Injuries / complications