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Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 1995 Jun;16(2):107-14.

Homicidal blunt head trauma, diffuse axonal injury, alcoholic intoxication, and cardiorespiratory arrest: a case report of a forensic syndrome of acute brainstem dysfunction.

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Department of Pathology, Victoria Hospital, London, Ontario, Canada.


Sudden death can occur in drunk individuals who are severely beaten about the face. The structural basis for this forensic syndrome is unknown. We herein describe the case of an intoxicated 23-year-old man (blood alcohol 234 mg%, 51 mmol/l) who was involved in an altercation and received blows and kicks to his head. A cardiorespiratory arrest occurred during the assault. He was resuscitated in hospital 23 min later but died 90 h after admission of severe ischemic encephalopathy and bronchopneumonia. Postmortem examination revealed diffuse scalp bruising, no evidence of a skull fracture, multiple small hemispheric contusions, severe cerebral edema secondary to ischemic encephalopathy, and axonal swellings in the corpus callosum, subcortical white matter, midbrain, right rostral inferior cerebellar peduncle, and medulla. This case of near sudden death confirms that blunt head trauma sustained during an assault can cause mild diffuse axonal injury. In addition, it is possible that sudden, alcohol intoxication-associated, craniofacial traumatic death is caused by acute dysfunction of the brainstem cardiorespiratory centers, whose capacity to correct potentially fatal dysrhythmias or apnea, induced by injury to their afferent axons, can be compromised by alcohol ingestion.

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