Traumatic basal subarachnoid hemorrhage. Report of six cases and review of the literature

Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 1988 Mar;9(1):23-31.


Basal subarachnoid hemorrhage due to rupture of normal extra- and intracranial arteries, in association with minor trauma to the face and neck and alcohol intoxication, has been well described but often goes unrecognized at autopsy. This results in the incorrect classification of the manner of death as natural. Six cases of subarachnoid hemorrhage due to mild-to-moderate blows to the head or neck are presented. All were men in the age range 28-61 years (mean, 38.8 years). Four had blood alcohol levels of 0.09-0.28 g % at autopsy, and five of six were comatose or dead within 30 min of the initiating trauma. Traumatic ruptures of otherwise normal extra- and intracranial arteries were identified in four cases. The site of rupture was not found in one case, and the final case had rupture of a fibrotic intracranial vertebral artery. Multiple sites of incomplete and complete rupture were found in four cases. Postmortem angiography was used in one case to demonstrate the site of rupture prior to removal of the brain. Postmortem angiography and careful gross and histologic examination of extra- and intracranial cerebral arteries is recommended in all cases of basal subarachnoid hemorrhage where minor trauma to the head or neck has occurred prior to collapse or death, especially if the decedent was intoxicated at the time of the trauma.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autopsy / methods
  • Cause of Death
  • Cerebral Arteries / injuries*
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / complications*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck Injuries
  • Rupture / complications
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage / etiology
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage / pathology*