The Role of Postmortem Computed Tomography in the Evaluation of Strangulation Deaths

J Forensic Sci. 2018 Sep;63(5):1401-1405. doi: 10.1111/1556-4029.13760. Epub 2018 Feb 21.


We explored the value of postmortem computed tomography (PMCT) to augment autopsy in evaluating strangulation fatalities. A literature search identified 16 studies describing autopsy findings in 576 deaths and two studies describing autopsy and PMCT findings in six deaths. Similar cases were identified from our institution, yielding 130 deaths with autopsy findings and 14 deaths with both autopsy and PMCT findings. The presence of laryngohyoid fracture and soft tissue hemorrhage was compared from autopsy and autopsy+PMCT cases. The detection rates of fractures in autopsy and autopsy+PMCT cases were not significantly different. PMCT identified all fractures observed at autopsy and five fractures not identified. While PMCT may not detect soft tissue injuries in decomposed remains or subtle internal hemorrhages in neck injury, it is equally able to detect bony injuries as autopsy and might surpass autopsy in detecting subtle fractures. We conclude PMCT is useful to supplement autopsy in strangulation cases.

Keywords: autopsy; cricoid cartilage; forensic science; fractures; hyoid; postmortem computed tomography; soft tissue hemorrhage; strangulation; thyroid cartilage.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Asphyxia / diagnostic imaging*
  • Autopsy / methods
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cricoid Cartilage / diagnostic imaging
  • Cricoid Cartilage / injuries
  • Female
  • Fractures, Bone / diagnostic imaging
  • Fractures, Cartilage / diagnostic imaging
  • Hemorrhage / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Hyoid Bone / diagnostic imaging
  • Hyoid Bone / injuries
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck Injuries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Thyroid Cartilage / diagnostic imaging
  • Thyroid Cartilage / injuries
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*
  • Young Adult