• Strangulation
    • Hanging, ligature, manual or postural strangulation
    • Homicide, assault, suicide or execution
  • Mechanism of death/injury [1]
    • Spinal cord/brainstem injury
    • Mechanical compression
    • Bradycardia


  • Upper C-spine fractures
    • Judicial hanging, greater heights
  • Jugular venous obstruction
  • Arterial compression
    • Cerebral ischemia
  • Airway compression
    • Hypoxia
  • Carotid baroreceptor reflex
    • Bradycardic arrest

Clinical Features

  • Facial petechiae
  • Ecchymoses
  • Airway
  • Cardiopulmonary
    • Aspiration pneumonia
    • Cardiac arrest
    • Bradycardia
    • Negative-pressure pulmonary edema (NPPE)
  • Neurologic

Differential Diagnosis

Neck Trauma


  • CBC
  • Chem 10
  • PT/PTT
  • Type and screen
  • Lactate
  • EtOH, Utox
  • CT brain
  • CT cervical spine
  • CTA neck criteria from Taming of the Sru Grand Rounds [2]directly quoted below:
    • Guidelines for imaging: GCS<8, audible neck bruit, expanding neck hematoma, focal neurologic deficit (including TIAs, Horner’s syndrome, vertebrobasilar syndrome), arterial bleeding from nose, mouth, neck
      • OR consider adding on if high C spine fracture, cervical vertebral body or fracture through foramen transversarium, subluxation or ligamentous injury at any level, significant thoracic/cardiac blunt force trauma, LeFort II or III fractures, skull base fracture, diffuse axonal injury
      • CTA neck AND head (can miss top of carotids with just CTA neck)
  • CXR

Denver screening criteria for blunt cerebrovascular injury

The Denver Screening Criteria are divided into risk factors and signs and symptoms

Signs and Symptoms

  • Arterial hemorrhage
  • Cervical bruit
  • Expanding neck hematoma
  • Focal neurologic deficit
  • Neuro exam inconsistent with head CT
  • Stroke on head CT

Risk Factors

  • Midface Fractures (Le Fort II or III)
  • Basilar Skull Fracture with carotid canal involvement
  • Diffuse axonal injury with GCS<6
  • Cervical spine fracture
  • Hanging with anoxic brain injury
  • Seat belt abrasion or other soft tissue injury of the anterior neck resulting in significant swelling or altered mental status
    • Isolated seatbelt sign without other neurologic symptoms has not been identified as a risk factor[3][4]


  • ATLS
  • Secure airway if indicated
    • Stridor/hoarseness suggests upper airway obstruction
  • Cervical spine immobilization
  • Cardiac monitoring
  • Antibiotics if aspiration present
  • PEEP for hypoxia
  • Levophed for neurogenic shock


  • Observation warranted if awake, alert, no stridor
  • ICU
  • Psychiatric assessment

See Also


  1. Iserson, K. V. (1984) ‘Strangulation: A review of ligature, manual, and postural neck compression injuries’, Annals of Emergency Medicine, 13(3), pp. 179–185.
  2. Taming of the Sru Grand Rounds Recap 11.6.19 accessed 11/25/2019. Copy permission given by CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license Taming of the Sru Website
  3. DiPerna CA, Rowe VL, Terramani TT, et al. Clinical importance of the “seat belt sign” in blunt trauma to the neck. Am Surg. 2002;68:441–445
  4. Rozycki GS, Tremblay L, Feliciano DV, et al. A prospective study for the detection of vascular injury in adult and pediatric patients with cervicothoracic seat belt signs. J Trauma. 2002;52:618–623; discussion 623–624
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