Forensic Science, Medicine, and Pathology

, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 177–183 | Cite as

Svechnikov’s sign as an indicator of drowning in immersed bodies changed by decomposition: an autopsy study

  • Vladimir Živković
  • Dragan Babić
  • Slobodan Nikolić
Original Article



Bodies recovered from water often present as a difficult problem in forensic pathology. The aim of this study was to examine the presence and amount of free liquid in the sphenoid sinus in cases of freshwater drowning, and to compare this to the amount found in putrefied bodies recovered from freshwater, as well as in putrefied bodies found in an indoor environment.


Free liquid from the sphenoid sinuses was aspirated using a syringe and a needle, after piercing the hypophyseal fossa. Non-putrefied drowning cases were also examined for hemolytic staining of the intima of the aortic root.


In 29 non-putrefied cases of freshwater drowning there was 1.36 ± 1.48 ml in the sphenoid sinuses, with 21 of them having hemolytic staining of aortic intima. In putrefied bodies recovered from freshwater (22 cases) there was 1.26 ± 1.40 ml within the sphenoid sinuses, and in putrefied bodies found in an indoor environment (52 cases), there was significantly less—0.57 ± 0.92 ml.


Free liquid in the sphenoid sinuses (Svechnikov’s sign) may be considered a vital reaction in drowning non-putrefied cases. Hemolytic staining of the aortic intima could be a significant sign of freshwater drowning. In putrefied bodies recovered from water, an amount of 0.55 ml of free liquid in the sphenoid sinuses may imply that the victim was alive upon their contact with the water, but the presence of free liquid in the sphenoid sinuses does not necessarily indicate that drowning had been the cause of death.


Forensic pathology Drowning Free liquid in sphenoid sinuses Svechnikov’s sign Hemolytic staining of the aorta 



This study was supported by Ministry of Science of Republic of Serbia, Grant No. 45005.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vladimir Živković
    • 1
  • Dragan Babić
    • 2
  • Slobodan Nikolić
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Forensic MedicineUniversity of Belgrade – School of MedicineBelgradeSerbia
  2. 2.Institute of Medical Statistics and InformaticsUniversity of Belgrade – School of MedicineBelgradeSerbia

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