Asphyxiation is something that many people die of throughout the world and it is something that many people think is simply the act of suffocating or smothering a victim until they can no longer breathe.

What is Asphyxiation?

In actual fact Asphyxiation is the term given to blocking the airway so that the individual on the receiving end cannot breathe and ultimately dies. Asphyxiation also comes under the category of strangulation, which – as we have already mentioned – is the process of blocking an individual’s airways until they stop breathing.

Most cases of Asphyxiation are the result of a frenzied argument or uncontrollable rage and it is – contrary to popular belief – unusual for an attacker to deliberately set out to kill their victim by means of strangulation. The most common reason for this is that the process is slow and arduous and requires a lot of strength to subdue the victim whilst also trying to strangle them.

Asphyxiation – including strangulation – is also used by some as a means of sexual arousal and is performed during what is known as Auto Erotic Asphyxiation. This is the practice of cutting off the blood supply to the brain for short periods by smothering, suffocating or strangulation and although this may sound like a strange pursuit for many it is a thrilling and sexually arousing experience; heightened more so by the thought of impending death.

These practices have long term risks – should the person or persons involved manage not to accidentally kill themselves. These risks include brain damage, Cerebral Anoxia, as well as damage to the trachea and the oesophagus.

Signs of Asphyxiation

If the deceased is found at a crime scene – or what might potentially be a crime scene – with no physical signs of how they died it is normal for the forensic scientist or Scene of Crime Officer (SOCO) to look for signs of Asphyxiation.

These – if the eyes are open upon discovery – are bloodshot eyes, as well as ligature marks around the neck and/or wrists, which signify the tying up of the victim.

These practices are – as we have already mentioned – dangerous and unwise but it is well documented that they do carry on throughout the Western world and as such are prone to going wrong.

Many cases of Asphyxiation are accidental and the victims are normally to be found in the presence of a partner or at least someone who knew the victim.

It is worth noting also that in those rare instances of death by Asphyxiation that there is normally a sexual element to the investigation and this is something that forensic pathologists and police alike will seek to confirm or deny at the beginning of any enquiry where Asphyxiation is used as a means to bring about death.

Also in any of the instances of Asphyxiation it is important to note that when there is a lack of oxygen to the brain for any length of time a potentially lethal build-up of Carbon Dioxide waste in the deceased tissues can be monitored during the autopsy stage.

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