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What happens when someone hangs themselves?

Hanging is one of the most common methods of suicide. So what exactly happens when someone hangs themselves?

Hanging is considered to be a relatively simple method of suicide with the materials required easily available to anyone and has a high ‘success’ rate.

Hanging can be divided into two categories - suspension hanging and drop hanging.

Suspension hanging is when the body is suspended at the neck. A rope or something similar is tied in a noose around the neck and then the rope is tied to a point, this is called a ligature point. The body is then suspended which causes the ligature around the neck to tighten. Suspension hanging can kill a person in three ways.

The compression of the carotid arteries, the jugular veins, or the compression of the airway.

Pressure is required to compress the arteries and veins, these are the main vessels that supply the brain and they are essential for life. When compression commences, a person starts to lose consciousness, then muscle tone, and then muscle movement. This can take seconds to happen but has been reported in the past to take a few minutes. The compression of the carotid arteries leads to asphyxiation and then causes a lack of oxygen to the brain. Once the brain is starved of oxygen, death is imminent. The body may also start to show lividity marks due to the pooling of blood in the extremities, the legs, and hands if hung from a height.

Drop hanging is more often seen in execution rather than as a method of suicide. The body is usually dropped from a substantial height with a rope tied around the neck. The immense force caused by this drop disrupts the spine. Fractures occur in the cervical vertebrae, the most superior vertebrae of the spinal cord. These fractures can sever the spinal cord, this is considered to be a less painful death. If fracturing of the spinal cord is not what caused death to occur in this instance, a person can suffer similarly to what was seen in suspension hanging.

If this has not caused a person's demise, they could die from the vagal response. The vagus nerve is one of the cranial nerves, it is the main nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system and it controls digestion and most importantly your heart rate. Compression on the neck, from a rope in these instances, can cause the vagal response to be stimulated. This can instigate a cardiac arrest, causing death.

There is a lot more involved in death than you may think. Come join us at The Post Mortem Live to discover the secrets of the human body and all that death has to tell us. Check out our website to see when we will be visiting a city near you!


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