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Antemortem Drowning and Post Mortem Drowning: Differences


Drowning is the act of suffocating due to being submerged in water or other fluids. This can lead to breathing difficulties and a lack of oxygen, ultimately resulting in death. It happens when water enters the air passages, preventing the body from taking in oxygen and disrupting the exchange of gases. Drowning can occur unintentionally during water-related events or on purpose, such as in cases of murder or suicide.

It is characterized by a lack of breathing and blood circulation, often accompanied by water in the lungs upon examination after death. Drowning remains a major cause of death globally, especially among children and in situations involving water activities or natural disasters.

Differences between Antemortem and Postmortem Drowning:

The main differences between antemortem (before death) and postmortem (after death) drowning are given below:

  1. Antemortem Drowning occurs when an individual is still alive at the time of submersion and drowns due to the inability to breathe underwater. Postmortem Drowning happens when the person is already deceased before entering the water and drowning results from the body being submerged after death.
  2. When a person is alive, they may experience antemortem drowning, which results in water entering the lungs and ultimately causing death. This can be identified by observing water in the lungs, froth in the airways, and congestion. On the other hand, postmortem drowning occurs after death, when water enters the body due to immersion. It can be differentiated from antemortem drowning by the absence of froth in the airways, congestion, and water in the stomach. A thorough investigation is necessary to determine the timing and details of the event in both cases.
  3. Antemortem drowning typically shows specific changes in the lungs, such as increased water content and inflammatory reactions. Postmortem drowning, on the other hand, does not exhibit these specific changes in lung tissue.
  4. Signs of struggling and attempts to breathe underwater are common in antemortem drowning. In contrast, postmortem drowning lacks physiological responses like struggling, as the individual is already deceased.
  5. Antemortem drowning usually occurs due to accidents, water-related incidents, or intentional submersion. Postmortem drowning can happen when bodies are disposed of in water after death, accidental postmortem submersion, or other circumstances.
  6. Antemortem drowning is relatively easy to diagnose based on specific signs, such as water in the airways and lungs. However, postmortem drowning can be more challenging to diagnose definitively, especially if the body has been in the water for an extended period, as decomposition can mimic drowning signs.
  7. In antemortem drowning, an autopsy may reveal evidence of water inhalation, lung tissue changes, and other signs of drowning. In postmortem drowning, an autopsy may show drowning as a possible cause of death, but other factors may also contribute.
  8. Antemortem drowning victims may be resuscitated if found in time, but postmortem drowning victims cannot be revived. Treatment options for postmortem drowning are focused on recovering and identifying the body.
  9. The diatom test plays a crucial role in distinguishing between drowning that occurred before or after death. When someone dies from drowning, diatoms can be found in their internal organs including the kidney, liver, lung, and brain, as well as in the bone marrow of long bones, but the same is not the case in postmortem drowning. This specific pattern of deposition helps forensic professionals determine if the person was alive or dead when they inhaled water, making it an essential tool in forensic investigations related to drowning cases.
  10. If a person drowns before death, they may be found with weeds or other plants in their hands, suggesting that they tried to fight or hold onto something while underwater. On the other hand, if a person drowns after death, they will not have any vegetation in their grasp because their body is incapable of intentional movement. This distinction is helpful for forensic investigators to determine if a drowning incident occurred before or after death, based on the presence or absence of plant evidence.
  11. In situations where drowning occurs before death, there may be no visible signs of harm on the body due to the lack of external violence during the drowning process. However, in instances of drowning after death, there could be indications of injury, potentially suggesting that the individual experienced physical harm before or after their passing. This contrast in injury presence helps forensic experts distinguish between drowning before and after death, aiding in the understanding of the chronological order of events that led to the person's death.
  12. There is more chance of ante-mortem drowning to be accidental or suicidal and there is little chance of it being homicidal unless somebody throws or pushes a child or a person into water, whereas post-mortem drowning is more likely to be homicidal unless somebody throws the dead body in water as a matter of custom or due to poverty for not having the money to conduct the last rites and there is little chance of it being accidental or suicidal. During Corona virus outbreak many dead bodies were allegedly thrown into rivers due to inability to conduct their last rites out of poverty, compulsion or fear.

Written By: Md.Imran Wahab, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected], Ph no: 9836576565

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