Postmortem lung weight in drownings: A comparison with acute asphyxiation and cardiac death

Bao Li Zhu, Li Quan, Dong Ri Li, Mari Taniguchi, Yasunobu Kamikodai, Kohei Tsuda, Masaki Q. Fujita, Katsuji Nishi, Tsutomu Tsuji, Hitoshi Maeda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


There are several controversial findings and arguments about the lung weight as a marker of drowning. The aim of the present study was to examine the difference in the lung weight and the amount of pleural effusion between freshwater and saltwater drownings (n = 70 and n = 75, respectively), in comparison with asphyxiation (n = 85) and acute cardiac death (n = 82), for the diagnosis of drowning. In drowning cases, a gradual postmortem time-dependent decrease in the lung weight and a reciprocal increase in the pleural effusion suggested postmortem transudation from the lungs. The decrease in the total value of the combined lung weight and the amount of pleural effusion was marked in saltwater immersion after 3 days postmortem, suggesting a leakage of the effusion out of the thoracic cavity under an osmotic effect of the immersion medium. In cases within 3 days postmortem, when the combined lung weight and amount of pleural effusion were added to estimate possible combined lung weight at the time of death, there was a gross difference among the causes of death: the value was the largest in saltwater drowning, followed by freshwater drowning, acute cardiac death and asphyxiation. However, the value depended on the gender and age of the subjects, suggesting a relation to the individual physical constitution and survival time or vital activity. These factors should be taken into consideration in evaluation of the lung weight in the diagnosis of drownings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-26
Number of pages7
JournalLegal Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2003 Mar
Externally publishedYes


  • Age
  • Drowning
  • Forensic pathology
  • Gender
  • Lung weight
  • Pleural effusion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects


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