Venous air embolism: An under-recognised entity in blunt-force trauma and the importance of radiology

Med Sci Law. 2017 Apr;57(2):95-99. doi: 10.1177/0025802417699346. Epub 2017 Mar 14.


Air embolism (AE) is considered a rare event and can be either iatrogenic or traumatic. Various post-mortem methods to detect AE exist, of which radiology is preferred. The presence of air in the heart can be demonstrated using special dissection techniques where the heart is opened under water or by needle puncture from a water-filled syringe. Three cases of blunt-force head injury are presented herein, with AE being diagnosed by conventional radiography using a Lodox Statscan® full-body digital X-ray machine in all cases. This case series demonstrates that AE due to blunt-force trauma to the head and sinuses might be under-recognised in the forensic post-mortem setting. It also highlights the importance of radiology in diagnosing AE post-mortem, especially where the results of post-mortem techniques might be unsatisfactory.

Keywords: Air embolism; blunt-force head injury; forensic; post-mortem; radiography.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autopsy*
  • Diagnostic Imaging*
  • Embolism, Air / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / pathology*