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Forensic Sci Int. 2003 May 5;133(3):190-6.

Organ weight effects of drowning and asphyxiation on the lungs, liver, brain, heart, kidneys, and spleen.

Author information

  • 1National Study Center for Trauma and Emergency Medical Services, School of Medicine, University of Maryland at Baltimore, 701 West Pratt Street, Room 517, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA.

Erratum in

  • Forensic Sci Int. 2003 Nov 26;137(2-3):238.


An examination of the organ weights associated with victims of drowning, asphyxiation and trauma was undertaken to determine (a) the effects of asphyxiation compared to a trauma group, and in turn, (b) the effects of drowning compared to an asphyxiation group. Included in the study were 217 drowning deaths, 166 pure asphyxiation deaths and 381 trauma deaths. The effects of asphyxiation (compared to trauma) resulted in elevated mean organ weights for the lungs, liver, kidneys and spleen (with mean increases of 17.8, 10.5, 10.3 and 23.4%, respectively). Effects of drowning (compared to asphyxiation) resulted in elevated mean organ weights only with the lungs and kidneys (with mean increases of 30.0 and 4.4%, respectively). Only the mean heart and brain weight remained constant across all experimental groups. A picture of drowning is suggested in which elevated lung and kidney weights are the result of both asphyxiation and the aspiration of water that occurs with drowning, whereas elevated spleen and liver weights in drowning victims are associated with only the effects of asphyxiation. In addition, the common autopsy finding of a small, anemic spleen in drowning, rather than caused by some pathophysiological mechanism of death, is hypothesized to be a postmortem phenomenon.

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