International Journal of Legal Medicine

, Volume 130, Issue 5, pp 1281–1285 | Cite as

Acute pulmonary emphysema in death by hanging: a morphometric digital study

  • Claudia Castiglioni
  • Pia Baumann
  • Tony FracassoEmail author
Original Article


Acute pulmonary emphysema (APE) has been described in cases of mechanical asphyxia such as ligature or manual strangulation but not in cases of hanging. In this study, we wanted to verify by morphometric digital analysis of lung tissue whether APE occurs in death by hanging.

We investigated 16 cases of hanging (eight complete, eight incomplete), 10 cases of freshwater drowning (positive control group), and 10 cases of acute external bleeding (negative control group). Tissue sections were obtained from each pulmonary lobe. For each slide, five fields were randomly selected. The area of every alveolar space was measured by image analysis software. The mean alveolar area (MAA) was calculated for each group.

In incomplete hanging, MAA was significantly higher than that observed in complete hanging and similar to the one observed in freshwater drowning.

APE in cases of incomplete hanging can be considered as a sign of vitality. The high number of conditions that can cause alveolar distension (that were excluded in this study) limits the applicability of this vital sign in the routine forensic practice.


Forensic pathology—acute pulmonary emphysema Hanging Sign of vitality Morphometric digital analysis 



We would like to thank Prof. Thomas Perneger, head of the epidemiology service of the Geneva university hospitals for the helpful discussion and assistance in statistical analysis.

This study was financially supported by a MIMOSA grant from the Department of Health and Community Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Geneva.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Claudia Castiglioni
    • 1
  • Pia Baumann
    • 1
  • Tony Fracasso
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Centre universitaire romand de médecine légaleLausanneSwitzerland

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