Hanging and strangulation (trauma)

Last revised by Herwig Brandtner on 2 Dec 2020

Hanging and strangulation are injuries involving constricting pressure applied to the neck. The vast majority are sustained as a result of attempted suicide.

In America, hangings are the second most common form of suicide after firearm use. In other parts of the world due to the relative difficulty in accessing firearms, hangings are the most common form of suicide 1.

Patients may be dead on arrival or with an altered level of consciousness. Bruising or lacerations may be visible around the neck. Airway compromise may be present 2.

Hangings are in fact a type of strangulation, along with ligature strangulation and manual strangulation. Hangings and strangulations can all be accidental, self-inflicted (e.g. in suicide) or intentional (e.g. judicial hangings) 3.

  • hanging: a constricting band placed around the neck which constricts due to the effect of gravity by either the entire body hanging (called a complete hanging) or a part of the body hanging (called an incomplete hanging)
  • ligature strangulation: a constricting object or band placed around the neck which is tightened by a force other than gravity
  • manual strangulation: a force applied to the neck directly by body parts (e.g. hands, arms, legs)

In suicidal hanging the forces exerted on the neck are usually lower than those seen in judicial hangings due to absence of the drop height in such hangings, making cervical spine injury less of a concern (see hangman fracture). Vascular injury (e.g. carotid dissection) is an important site of injury to consider as well 4. Fractures of the trachea, the thyroid and cricoid cartilages as well as the hyoid bone can also occur 5. Hypoxic brain injury due to asphyxia and/or vascular occlusion is an often fatal complication 5.

The pathophysiology of hanging and strangulation-induced death includes multiple processes such as 4:

  • carotid sinus stimulation induced cardiac arrest
  • asphyxia (caused by airway compression)
  • vascular occlusion
  • spinal cord or brainstem damage

Plain film can be used to demonstrate the pulmonary complications which are common in survivors of near-hanging injuries such as pulmonary edemapneumonia, and ARDS.

CT can evaluate injury to the soft tissues, airway cartilage, and bones of the neck. CT of the brain may reveal cerebral edema and hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy 5

CT angiogram of the neck vessels should be performed to demonstrate the presence of any vascular injury (e.g. blunt cerebrovascular injury5.

MRI of the brain can demonstrate any hypoxic-ischemic brain or spinal cord injury in greater detail 5

Hangings overall carry a 70% mortality rate, but of patients who arrive at hospital 80% survive often with no lasting neurological deficit 1.

ADVERTISEMENT: Supporters see fewer/no ads

Cases and figures

  • Case 1
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Case 2
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Case 3
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Updating… Please wait.

     Unable to process the form. Check for errors and try again.

     Thank you for updating your details.