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View Full Version : How long would it take to die from strangulation?


NinjaChick
05-21-2008, 07:43 PM
According to most relevant movies and TV shows I've seen, it takes maybe thirty seconds. But I know plenty of people who can easily hold their breath for thirty seconds or more without even passing out, let alone dying.

Asked purely out of morbid curiosity, not any sort of nefarious scheming.

beowulff
05-21-2008, 07:46 PM
Best username/post combination ever!

Martin Hyde
05-21-2008, 07:46 PM
Just a WAG, but I imagine it might take awhile to die, but that significant damage from strangulation that would lead to certain death could be inflicted very quickly.

A crushed wind-pipe, damaged arteries that supply blood to the brain and et cetera, for example.

While it may take a bit before your brain is "technically dead" I imagine you would be rendered unconscious and "mortally wounded" pretty quickly if someone had the right grip on your neck and applied the right pressure (I imagine there's even the chance of a broken neck and such, as well.)

Edit--Also, I wouldn't think of strangulation so much as the same thing as simply being deprived of breathing, most of us can go for a small bit without breathing. It's actually more like someone trying to crush your throat, which will incidentally deprive you of oxygen, possibly destroy key arteries, break bones, et cetera.

Yllaria
05-21-2008, 07:55 PM
The instructor at the First Aid class I took Monday said that irreparable brain damage occurs after 6 minutes without breathing, for an average adult. The smaller the person, the less time they have. Also, increased activity/panic will use up the oxygen in the blood quicker.

I'm guessing that this is a maximum and that death could occur more quickly.

Telemark
05-21-2008, 08:11 PM
Wouldn't strangulation involve cutting off blood flow to the brain, not just breathing? When not breathing there is still oxygen in the blood (although in diminishing amounts). Are you talking about suffocation?

Moriarty
05-21-2008, 08:52 PM
The instructor at the First Aid class I took Monday said that irreparable brain damage occurs after 6 minutes without breathing, for an average adult.

I just recently saw David Blaine set the world record for holding his breath (on an episode of Oprah). IIRC, he held it for 19 minutes! And, although some may say he seems a little deranged to begin with, he was no worse for the wear after the feat.

I don't have an answer to the OP, but it is my understanding that death by hanging is the result of a broken neck, and not from lack of oxygen. Not that anyone here has argued otherwise, but I thought I'd put that out there.

Ganryu Kojiro
05-21-2008, 09:25 PM
It seems to me that we have to agree on terminology. I've heard that strangulation differs from choking in that you cut fresh blood off from the brain while choking is when the airway is cut off directly. If that's true then I have no trouble believing that strangulation can lead to a very quick death. Simply having your airway cut off is a much less hasty death.

Granted, I got this from acquaintances who might not know a damn thing.

bouv
05-21-2008, 09:28 PM
Wouldn't strangulation involve cutting off blood flow to the brain, not just breathing? When not breathing there is still oxygen in the blood (although in diminishing amounts). Are you talking about suffocation?

Well, just my WAG, but I think this is what's generally going on. It's not that the victim isn't getting oxygen into their lungs for thirty seconds, it's that they aren't getting oxygen to their brain for thirty seconds. I imagine that's the goal of chocking someone, and why lots of pro-wrestlers had a "sleeper hold" of some kind. Sure, they were fake, but they were based off what can actually happen. The biggest problem with how it's portrayed in TV/movies, though, is that I'm pretty sure the average person, even after passing out from not getting oxygen to the brain, will just start breathing again on their own once you let go of them. So after they lose consciousness, you'd have to keep pressure there, probably for several minutes longer, to ensure they won't just wake up again with nothing but a sore throat.

Sampiro
05-21-2008, 09:37 PM
After the Nuremberg trials some of the condemned prisoners were deliberately dropped in such a way that their necks didn't snap but they died of strangulation. (Hermann Göring committed suicide largely because he suspected this would be the case and knew that as the "star" of the proceedings his own death would be the worse.)

Alfred Jodl, the Wehrmacht Chief of Staff, is recorded as having lived for 18 minutes, and Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel (a 64 year old heavy smoker) was still alive after 20 minutes (he was cut down at 24 when doctors no longer found a pulse). Some legal hangings in which the condemned died of strangulation took longer. They weren't conscious for that long and may even have been brain dead long before that time, but that's how late they were still getting a pulse, and keep in mind that these were men who were being choked by nooses with their own body weight acting as force against them (i.e. more forceful strangulation than most humans could deliver to another).

Jpal
05-21-2008, 09:41 PM
I think I remember Richard Kuklinski saying that it took him "a couple minutes", or "a few minutes" on one of those A&E specials. I'm also pretty sure he described the act as putting a rope around the victims neck, and then slinging them over his shoulder to essentially hang them.

I would imagine your average person wouldn't have much luck in doing that though(Kuklinski was 6'5, 300lbs.).

C K Dexter Haven
05-21-2008, 09:41 PM
In the movies and TV, of course, it would borrrrrrring to watch seven minutes of strangulation, so it all goes by very quickly... in much the same way that the death of Camille from consumption (TB) usually only takes about two hours.

Gfactor
05-21-2008, 09:46 PM
This suggests it can take up to 15 minutes:

Suicides and old-fashioned "short drop" executions cause death by strangulation; the rope puts pressure on the windpipe and the arteries to the brain. This can cause unconsciousness in 10 seconds, but it takes longer if the noose is incorrectly sited. Witnesses of public hangings often reported victims "dancing" in pain at the end of the rope, struggling violently as they asphyxiated. Death only ensues after many minutes, as shown by the numerous people being resuscitated after being cut down - even after 15 minutes. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19626252.800

Santo Rugger
05-21-2008, 09:56 PM
<snip>So after they lose consciousness, you'd have to keep pressure there, probably for several minutes longer, to ensure they won't just wake up again with nothing but a sore throat.

If you do it right, they won't have a sore throat at all. Pressure is applied to the jugular, IIRC, to keep the deoxygenated blood in the brain. If you apply pressure to the throat, the person feel they are in more danger, causing them to resist more strongly. It's quite possible to have a sleeper hold on somebody without them fighting very hard to keep your bicep and forearm off said veins.

The symptoms when waking up are similar to waking up from a hangover. Disorientation, perhaps some nausea, and almost always a headache on the top/sides of the head.

tim314
05-21-2008, 10:14 PM
Just a WAG, but I imagine it might take awhile to die, but that significant damage from strangulation that would lead to certain death could be inflicted very quickly.

A crushed wind-pipe, damaged arteries that supply blood to the brain and et cetera, for example.

While it may take a bit before your brain is "technically dead" I imagine you would be rendered unconscious and "mortally wounded" pretty quickly if someone had the right grip on your neck and applied the right pressure (I imagine there's even the chance of a broken neck and such, as well.).
People get choked into unconsciousness in submission grappling or mixed martial arts competitions (Ultimate Fighting Championship, etc.). Usually they'll tap out if they know they're caught, but people getting choked unconscious doesn't seem particularly rare. (Of course the fight is stopped as soon as the ref sees they're out.) I've never heard of anyone being killed or permanently injured by a choke hold in such a competition, so I'm guessing it's fairly hard to cause permanent damage choking someone with your bare hands.

Then again, it's possible that there are more dangerous choke holds that are banned from these events. And as far as I know, strikes to the throat are almost always banned.

pulykamell
05-21-2008, 10:18 PM
I just recently saw David Blaine set the world record for holding his breath (on an episode of Oprah). IIRC, he held it for 19 minutes!

I looked this up, doubting its veracity, but it looks legit. 17 minutes 4 seconds. Holy crap.

edit: I should add, he was allowed to dope up on pure oxygen before going for the record.

NinjaChick
05-22-2008, 12:36 AM
I did mean strangulation, but I'm kind of an idiot and momentarily forgot about the whole 'cutting off blood flow' thing, which would indeed seem important. But from what's been said I doubt there's any single, specific answer, as it would depend on who or what was applying the pressure, and probably to a certain degree the person it was being applied to.

Would not struggling (pretend it's possible) increase survival time? Part of me wants to say it would, but I'm not sure why.

Sleel
05-22-2008, 03:38 AM
The terminology we use in martial arts is basically what Ganryu Kojiro outlined earlier: strangle = cut off blood supply to the brain; choke = cut off air.

Forensic terminology is not quite as exact about the mechanism, I believe, since pathologists are generally dealing with people who aren't as precise and knowledgeable about what they're doing. In forensics, strangulation is used to mean both cutting off blood supply and air, while they make a distinction about how the pressure is applied: manually (by hand, with no artificial aids) or through ligature or hanging.

Movies almost never show either how long is actually needed to kill someone from strangling, nor how violent a life and death struggle is. Naturally, they're more concerned with story-telling than in showing realistically all the aspects of the killing.

The short answer to how long to die is: about 10–15 minutes, but you'll get unconsiousness in as little as 10–15 seconds.

If you wanted to show realistic action, the movie killer should primarily cut off the blood supply, and only secondarily think about the airway. To to be sure the victim is dead, you'd need to keep pressure on for at least 3–5 minutes with a good (martial arts terminology) strangle that more or less completely shuts off the blood supply to the brain. This is enough time to cause cessation of pulse and respiration, and is around the time needed for brain death.

If you're talking about strangling with a cord or rope, or by manual strangulation, your killer should make sure pressure on the victim's neck is maintained for for 10–15 minutes after unconsciousness. Less time than that is not going to be 100% sure to kill someone.

If the airway wasn't crushed, it's possible for someone who looked "dead" to come back from being strangled. Unless the killer held the pressure on for several minutes, it's unlikely that the person would actually be dead, though as earlier noted only about 3 minutes of severe oxygen deprivation is enough to cause brain damage, even if the person doesn't actually die from it.

With strangulation using a ligature, or in a hanging, it's an either/or/both mechanism, depending on where the rope or cord ends up, where the knot is, how it's tied or pulled, how far the person falls, how much pressure there is being applied, etc. As Gfactor cited, short drop or suspension hangings will probably (though not always) produce fairly quick unconsciousness from arterial compression, but actual death from asphyxiation could take a very long time.

In fighting, strangles get fast results. You can put someone out in seconds if you're right on target, almost certainly in under a minute. Even when we were being careful and considerate of our partners in the dojo, and not really cranking them on, we'd sometimes get narrowed vision and haziness after only about 5–10 seconds. Strangles are very effective if properly applied, and are not usually lethal or even particularly damaging, since you're not tearing or crushing tissue.

The problem with using them for self defense is that very occasionally you'll get some nasty feedback from stimulating the vagus nerve and depress or stop cardiac activity. If you don't actually want to kill the person, this could be quite awkward. In the question the OP is asking, you shouldn't count on this to produce a dead body.

Chokes (martial arts terminology again) involve closing or crushing the airway. You will always cause more trauma with a choke than a strangle. The way the trachea is built, if you crush the cartilage that supports the airway it will close down and stay closed. (This is when you'd need to do an emergency tracheostomy if you don't actually want the person to die.) It's also possible to crush or rupture the larynx, or break the hyoid during a choke. This is actually very likely with a pure choke since the person will be conscious and struggling for some time.

If you're trying to stop a nasty fight quickly, wrapping a cord around the neck will compress both arteries and airways, putting him/her down pretty quickly, while simply choking across the throat with no wrap will do nothing much to cut off blood supply and the person will be conscious and extremely active and agitated for quite a long time, which is obviously less than ideal (in the clawing, kicking, biting, bucking, throwing you around sense of that term).

t-bonham@scc.net
05-22-2008, 04:31 AM
A rule-of-thumb that I remember from a long-ago first-aid course was:

lack of circulation/pulse - 30 seconds
lack of oxygen - 3 minutes
lack of water - 3 days
lack of food - 3 weeks

I don't know if those are precisely accurate, but they seem to be in about the right range.

tim314
05-22-2008, 12:02 PM
The terminology we use in martial arts is basically what Ganryu Kojiro outlined earlier: strangle = cut off blood supply to the brain; choke = cut off air.
This terminology isn't universal among martial arts. For instance, in Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu there's a technique called a rear naked choke (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rear_naked_choke) which (as typically applied) actually cuts off the blood rather than the air.

Frylock
05-22-2008, 02:29 PM
I looked this up, doubting its veracity, but it looks legit. 17 minutes 4 seconds. Holy crap.

edit: I should add, he was allowed to dope up on pure oxygen before going for the record.

Oh.

That's cheating!

-FrL-

Huerta88
05-22-2008, 02:38 PM
After the Nuremberg trials some of the condemned prisoners were deliberately dropped in such a way that their necks didn't snap but they died of strangulation. (Hermann Göring committed suicide largely because he suspected this would be the case and knew that as the "star" of the proceedings his own death would be the worse.)

Alfred Jodl, the Wehrmacht Chief of Staff, is recorded as having lived for 18 minutes, and Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel (a 64 year old heavy smoker) was still alive after 20 minutes (he was cut down at 24 when doctors no longer found a pulse).
Do you have a cite? Not challenging you at all -- just curious why the executioners would have done this (putting aside the issues raised by inhumanely executing someone for crimes against humanity . . . ).

KneadToKnow
05-22-2008, 03:44 PM
Oh.

That's cheating!

-FrL-
This surprises you from David Blaine?

t-bonham@scc.net
05-22-2008, 04:21 PM
Do you have a cite? Not challenging you at all -- just curious why the executioners would have done this (putting aside the issues raised by inhumanely executing someone for crimes against humanity . . . ).Sampiro's wording seems to imply that this was something done underhandedly by the executioner, out of personal feeling or something. And that the prisoners knew of this plan ahead of time. That's not clear.

Generally, condemned prisoners in each of the 4 zones were executed using the standard method of the occupying power. In the French zone, that was the guillotine or firing squad, American & British zones, the long-drop hanging, and Soviet zone the short-drop hanging.

The Nuremberg Judges had some discussion about this, with the French proposing the firing squad (at least for the military prisoners), but both the Americans & Soviets objected that the prisoners had forfeited their right to a 'proper' military execution by their crimes. So after discussion the Judges agreed to hanging, but without clearly specifying long-drop or short-drop.

The hangings were done by an American, so it might be presumed that he would use the american long-drop method. But eyewitness accounts in the press clearly indicated that this did not happen, the drops were too short to break their necks.

This may have been intentional, thinking that this was what the Judges had ordered. Or it may simply have been a mistake by the executioner, in mis-calculating the length of the rope. (If so, it wasn't the only one. The gallows trap doors were also mis-sized, being too small -- several of the prisoners hit the sides of the trapdoor when falling through, resulting in bloody wounds on them.)

(We can't ask the executioner about this, as he was killed a few years later, accidentally electrocuting himself while preparing an electric chair for an execution.)

Max Torque
05-22-2008, 04:22 PM
Some old television show that I barely recall said that, when a person is being suffocated (that is, deprived of oxygen, say by a plastic sheet over the mouth and nose), it'll take two minutes for unconsciousness, and ten minutes for death. But, as said above, that'd take forever on the screen, so they tighten it up quite a bit.

pravnik
05-22-2008, 05:03 PM
This terminology isn't universal among martial arts. For instance, in Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu there's a technique called a rear naked choke (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rear_naked_choke) which (as typically applied) actually cuts off the blood rather than the air.Probably no terminology is universal in martial arts; trying to get martial artists to agree on anything at all is like herding cats. :D Some use "strangle" and "choke" to differentiate between blood and air techniques, some use "blood choke" and "air choke," the rear naked choke being an example of the former. The Portugese name for the rear naked choke is rather charming: mata leăo, "lion killer."

Sampiro
05-22-2008, 06:45 PM
Sampiro's wording seems to imply that this was something done underhandedly by the executioner, out of personal feeling or something. And that the prisoners knew of this plan ahead of time. That's not clear.

I didn't mean to imply that it was definitely intentional, which is not known, though it certainly could have been (and imo was- all manner of lit was around in 1946 on how to build gallows and how to hang as it was still the manner of execution in some U.S. states). Can't cite at the moment as I'm away from my books, but in a couple of the bios I've read of Göring it's mentioned that the executioner posed with a special rope he'd planned on using for "Fat Hermann" (though he was no longer that fat), and Göring had stated repeatedly that he was perfectly willing to die by firing squad but would not die by hanging, so it's fair assumption he had reason to believe it was a short drop. (Also, his doctor is said to have told him something to the effect of "expect a short night tonight" [meaning 'the executions are tonight', but possibly the short was relevant]).

In any case, pardon the hijack; the point is that Keitel and Jodl were both still alive for quite a few minutes even after losing consciousness, thus strangulation can take quite a while if not done with a lot of force. The garroting scenes in The Godfather is probably only accurate if you count the body going still as either when they lost consciousness or perhaps when their spinal chord snapped.

Martin Hyde
05-22-2008, 08:50 PM
People get choked into unconsciousness in submission grappling or mixed martial arts competitions (Ultimate Fighting Championship, etc.). Usually they'll tap out if they know they're caught, but people getting choked unconscious doesn't seem particularly rare. (Of course the fight is stopped as soon as the ref sees they're out.) I've never heard of anyone being killed or permanently injured by a choke hold in such a competition, so I'm guessing it's fairly hard to cause permanent damage choking someone with your bare hands.

Then again, it's possible that there are more dangerous choke holds that are banned from these events. And as far as I know, strikes to the throat are almost always banned.

I'm thinking of the situation in which a much more powerful person "throttles" a weaker person. Most forms of martial arts and fighting competitions have weight classes and are between people of the same gender. I was thinking of the situation where a 200 lbs. male is throttling a 100 lbs. female's throat--I think that could permanent and mortal damage pretty quickly. It's a much different situation when you're in a controlled environment, against someone who is roughly the same strength as you (as you can at least fight the pressure on your neck to a meaningful degree.)

Martin Hyde
05-22-2008, 08:51 PM
I don't think "strangulation" should necessarily mean the cutting off of blood flow or the cutting off of air flow, it is instead a deliberate compression of the neck--which can cause the cutting off of either and massive physical trauma in addition.

Autolycus
05-22-2008, 10:41 PM
these were men who were being choked by nooses with their own body weight acting as force against them (i.e. more forceful strangulation than most humans could deliver to another).

Is that true? What I'm asking is if the psi for a noose and gravity is more or less than the psi generated by a human grip?

Sampiro
05-23-2008, 02:09 AM
Is that true? What I'm asking is if the psi for a noose and gravity is more or less than the psi generated by a human grip?

I won't betray my ignorance of physics (other than to mention it here) by claiming that's a definite fact. :p Perhaps someone else will.

Shodan
05-23-2008, 09:53 AM
I'm thinking of the situation in which a much more powerful person "throttles" a weaker person. Most forms of martial arts and fighting competitions have weight classes and are between people of the same gender. I was thinking of the situation where a 200 lbs. male is throttling a 100 lbs. female's throat--I think that could permanent and mortal damage pretty quickly. It's a much different situation when you're in a controlled environment, against someone who is roughly the same strength as you (as you can at least fight the pressure on your neck to a meaningful degree.)
Well, I've been on the opposite side of this kind of mismatch a number of times, where my opponent was significantly larger than I.

One of my most commonly employed techniques in judo randori and in tournaments was the cross-choke from the guard (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9umNQNaC1B8&feature=related). This is a circulation strangle, not an air choke, but I never noticed any difference in how long they could hold out once properly applied that was dependent on size - I once choked out a guy who outweighed me by over a hundred pounds in less than ten seconds.

My understanding is that blood chokes like this work because you are putting pressure on the carotid sinus. Blood can no longer flow thru and the brain interprets this a a rise in blood pressure. This triggers a large drop in blood pressure (assisted, I believe, by pressure on the vagus nerve). You aren't really shutting off blood to the brain - circulation continues thru the vertebral arteries - but you can put a person out almost painlessly in a matter of seconds - much faster than with an airway choke (http://www.judoinfo.com/chokes.htm).

I imagine you would have to maintain this pressure for seven minutes or more to actually cause death. This is rather longer than I would care to spend, if I wanted to kill someone. I would probably first apply a circulation choke, cause them to pass out, then release the choke and crush the trachea with a strike or something.

Strangulation that works by shutting off the air flow thru the trachea is much slower - a determined or drugged up assailant can last a minute or more before passing out. Most submissions from hadaka-jime are produced because of the pain of the forearm compressing the throat, which is quite painful, and the feeling of suffocation produced by not being able to breathe is one of the few things people are born with. Of course, it is possible with some chokes to both compress the trachea and the carotids as well, producing both effects.

Airway chokes, especially caused by thumb pressure on the front of the throat (a rather inefficient method used by untrained assailants) sometimes fractures the hyoid bone. About a third of the time, in fact. (http://www.astm.org/JOURNALS/FORENSIC/PAGES/2601.htm) So if the bone is broken, this is evidence of strangulation, but an intact hyoid does not rule out strangulation.

But, as you mention, other mechanical damage to the throat can produce death even if the pressure is not maintained.

Regards,
Shodan

plnnr
05-23-2008, 10:03 AM
I've read a few eyewitness accounts fo the execution of the Lincoln assassination conspirators and several of them (including Lewis Payne and Mary Surrat) were alive for quite a few minutes after hitting the end of the rope. Evidently their necks were not broken and they strangled to death instead.

rjk
05-23-2008, 12:43 PM
Back in high school, a group of us were talking about pro wrestling, and I decided to explain how a sleeper hold wasn't the same as a choke. The volunteer I was using to show the difference didn't mind the choke (I didn't put any pressure on), but we were all surprised at how little pressure the sleeper took, and how fast he passed out. No damage done, but it scared the hell out of us!

Rick
05-23-2008, 01:24 PM
There was a brew haha here in LA many years ago when suspects that were being subdued with a police approved choke hold kept dying.
This lead to the banning of the use of such holds by the LAPD.
I suspect that death can occur rather quickly if the right conditions are met.

Scumpup
05-23-2008, 02:04 PM
I think I remember Richard Kuklinski saying that it took him "a couple minutes", or "a few minutes" on one of those A&E specials. I'm also pretty sure he described the act as putting a rope around the victims neck, and then slinging them over his shoulder to essentially hang them.

I would imagine your average person wouldn't have much luck in doing that though(Kuklinski was 6'5, 300lbs.).

Kuklinski was a pathological liar.

Sampiro
05-23-2008, 06:24 PM
I've read a few eyewitness accounts fo the execution of the Lincoln assassination conspirators and several of them (including Lewis Payne and Mary Surrat) were alive for quite a few minutes after hitting the end of the rope. Evidently their necks were not broken and they strangled to death instead.

In one account I read, the executioner felt guilt for the rest of his life over Mary Surratt. He, like many others (including the judges who had sentenced her and then appealed for clemency) was so convinced that her sentence would be commuted that he took the least time in tying her rope, thinking it wouldn't be needed anyway. Had he known she was to hang, he would have tied it in such a way as to give her a fast death.