Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention

Definition

Strangulation is squeezing of the neck with enough force to block the flow of blood to the brain and/or the flow air to the lungs. The loss of blood flow deprives the brain cells of vital oxygen. Even short periods of time without oxygen can cause damage to the brain.

The Brain

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Causes

Strangulation may be caused by someone’s hands or arm, or an item wrapped around the neck. It may be the result of:

  • An act of violence
  • An accident
  • Participation in activities with intentional strangulation

Risk Factors

Risk factors depend on the cause of the strangulation.

Symptoms

Symptoms will depend on the force that is applied and the length of time it is applied. Some symptoms will be immediate while others may take a few hours or days to appear.

The interference with blood flow can cause:

  • Confusion
  • Mental changes such as memory problems, depression, insomnia, and anxiety
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Weakness or numbness
  • Death

Damage to the structures of the neck such as hyoid bone, voice box, or windpipe can cause:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Pain

Some visible damage may include:

  • Redness
  • Bruising
  • Scrapes
  • Swelling
  • Broken blood vessels in the eyes or on the skin

Repeated strangulation can increase the risk of long-term damage and death.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is made based on information provided by the patient or a witness, and a physical exam.

Blood tests and x-rays may be done to look for any damage

Treatment

Treatment will be based on the severity of injury.

  • Soft tissue injuries can be managed with ice and rest.
  • Soft foods or a liquid diet may be recommended if swallowing is too painful or difficult.
  • Over the counter pain relievers may be advised to help reduce discomfort and swelling.

More severe injuries may require medical or surgical support to:

  • Treat pain
  • Support breathing until the throat heals
  • Address mental changes due to brain damage
  • Repair any injuries
  • Learn new swallowing techniques

Referral for counselling may be needed

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of strangulation:

  • Seek help if you are in an abusive relationship.
  • Avoid harmful behaviors that may block blood flow to the brain or air flow to the lungs. Even minor interruption in blood flow can cause damage to the brain.