Anatomic Pathology: Forensic Pathology

• There are no pathognomonic findings for drowning.

• There are autopsy signs that are commonly seen in drowning. Foam from the mouth is due to pulmonary edema caused by the mixing of air and water within the lungs. Other signs include hyperinflated, edematous, heavy lungs; watery gastric contents; and watery sphenoid sinus fluid. However, none of these signs are diagnostic of drowning.

• “Dry” lungs are found in approximately 10% to 20% of cases of drowning.

• There are other causes of death (e.g., epilepsy, drug intoxications) that also have foam emanating from the mouth.

• The detection of diatoms (algae with a silicaceous exoskeleton) has been used as an adjunctive test in suspected drownings. Because of the ubiquitous nature of diatoms, their detection is not conclusive of death by drowning.

Copeland AR: An assessment of lung weights in drowning cases. The placePlaceNameMetro PlaceNameDade PlaceTypeCounty experience from 1978 to 1982. Am J Forensic Med Pathol 1985;6(4):301-304.

DiMaio VJ, DiMaio DJ: Death by drowning.In DiMaio VJ, DiMaio DJ: Forensic Pathology, 2nd ed. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2001, pp 400-407.

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