Managing the Hanging Injury

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Author: Angela Hua, MD (EM Resident Physician, Mount Sinai Hospital) // Edited by: Alex Koyfman, MD (EM Attending Physician, UT Southwestern Medical Center / Parkland Memorial Hospital, @EMHighAK) and Brit Long, MD (EM Chief Resident at SAUSHEC, USAF, @long_brit)


A 41 yo M is brought in by EMS after an attempted hanging. He was found by his father-in-law, who cut him down with a neighbor’s assistance. Unwitnessed hanging, estimated 1-45min of hang time.

How should this case be managed? What are the issues to be immediately addressed, and of what complications should an emergency physician be aware?



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  • Hanging has become the 2nd most common form of successful suicide in the US, and is one of the  more common forms in the UK and Canada
  • In the jail system, hanging is the most common form of successful suicide



Judicial Hanging
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  • Drop is at least as long as the height of the victim, hanging is complete
  • Head hyperextends =>
    • Fracture of upper cervical spine, most commonly traumatic spondylolisthesis of C2, “hangman’s fracture”
    • Transection of the spinal cord


Other Strangulation Injuries

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  • Death ultimately results from cerebral hypoxia and ischemic neuronal death
  • Airway compromise plays minimal role in the immediate death of successful strangulation victims, but initial survivors may suffer significant pulmonary complications (see below)



  • Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 3.49.45 PMAbrasions, lacerations, contusions, edema to neckScreen Shot 2016-02-15 at 3.49.53 PM
  • Tardieu spots
  • Severe pain on gentle palpation of the larynx (laryngeal fracture)
  • Mild cough
  • Stridor
  • Muffled voice
  • Respiratory distress
  • Hypoxia (usually late finding)
  • Mental status changes



  • Endotracheal intubation (ETI) may become necessary with little warning
  • If ETI unsuccessful, consider cricothyroidotomy; if unsuccessful, percutaneous trans-laryngeal ventilation may be used temporarilyScreen Shot 2016-02-15 at 3.49.01 PM
  • Fluid resuscitation must be performed judiciously – risk of ARDS and cerebral edema
  • Monitor for cardiac arrhythmias
  • Altered / comatose patient => treat as cerebral edema with elevated ICP



  • Soft-tissue neck x-rayScreen Shot 2016-02-15 at 3.49.15 PM
  • Chest radiograph
  • CT brain
  • CT C-spine
  • Consider CTA head/neck or MRA head/neck



Even if the initial presentation is clinically benign, all near-hanging victims and those with vascular compromise should be admitted for 24 hours observation => risk of delayed airway and pulmonary complications



  • Respiratory complications = major cause of delayed mortality in near-hanging victims
  • Pulmonary edema
    • Neurogenic: centrally mediated, massive sympathetic discharge; often in association with serious brain injury, poor prognostic implication
    • Post-obstructive: due to marked negative intrapleural pressure, generated by forceful inspiratory effort against extrathoracic obstruction; when obstruction removed, may have rapid onset pulmonary edema leading to ARDS
  • Aspiration pneumoniaScreen Shot 2016-02-15 at 3.49.24 PM
  • Carotid intimal dissection or thrombus formation
  • Tracheal stenosis
  • Neurologic sequelae
    • Transient hemiplegia
    • Central cord syndrome
    • Seizures
    • Spinal cord injury
      • Long-term paraplegia/quadriplegia
      • Short-term autonomic dysfunction



  • GCS on presentation is NOT predictor of outcomeScreen Shot 2016-02-15 at 3.49.34 PM
  • Predictors of poor clinical outcome:

-Anoxic brain injury on head CT

-Long hanging time

-Cardiopulmonary arrest

-Cervical spine injury

-Hypotension on arrival

-PaO2/FiO2 < 100 at admission


References / Further Reading

  • Berdai AM, Labib S, Harandou M. Postobstructive pulmonary edema following accidental near-hanging. American Journal of Case Reports 2014; 14: 350-353
  • Borgquist O, Friberg H. Therapeutic hypothermia for comatose survivors after near-hanging—a retrospective analysis. Resuscitation 80(2009): 210-212.
  • Casha S, Christie S. A systematic review of intensive cardiopulmonary management after spinal cord injury. Journal of Neurotrauma 28: 1479-1495.
  • Furlan JC, Fehlings MG. Cardiovascular complications after acute spinal cord injury: pathophysiology, diagnosis, and management. Neurosurgery Focus 2008; 25(5): E13
  • Gandhi R, Taneja N, Mazumder P. Near hanging: early intervention can save lives. Indian Journal of Anaestehsia 2011, 55(4): 388-391
  • Kaki A, Crosby ET, Lui ACP. Airway and respiratory management following non-lethal hanging. Can J Anaesth 1997 44(4): 445-450
  • Irvin CB, Szpunar S, Cindrich LA, et al. Should trauma patients with a Glasgow Coma Scale score of 3 be intubated prior to hospital arrival? Prehospital Disaster Medicine 2010 25(6) 541-6.
  • Mack EH. Neurogenic shock. The Open Pediatric Medicine Journal 2013, 7 (suppl 1: M4) 16-18
  • Mansoor S, Afshar M, Barett M, et al. Acute respiratory distress syndrome and outcomes after near hanging. American Journal of Emergency Medicine 2015, 33: 359-362.
  • Newton K, Claudius I. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine – Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th Edition (2014). Volume 1, Part II, Chapter 44 pp 421-431.
  • Nickson C. Trauma! Spinal injury. Life in the Fast Lane.
  • Salim A, Martin M, Sangthong B. Near-hanging injuries: a 10-year experience. Injury, Int J Care Injured 2006, 37: 435-439.
  • Trujillo MH, Fragachan CF, Tortoledo F. Noncardiogenic pulmonary edema following accidental near-hanging. Heart & Lung. 2007 36(5) 363-366.

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