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Glossary for forensic pathology

This is a glossary of terms that are commonly found in post mortem reports and referenced by forensic pathologist’s while giving their opinion.

Post mortem reports often contain terms which are unfamiliar to legal professionals. Here are some of the most commonly used terms you will find in autopsy reports:

Anatomical positions

  • Anterior and Posterior: With respect to a body, anterior means the front of the body and posterior means the back of the body.
  • Bilateral: Both sides of the body.
  • Medial and Lateral: The midline can be described as an imaginary line which divides the body into two equal halves. Medial means towards or closer to midline and lateral means away or farther from the midline.
  • Prone: A body is said to be in a prone position when it is lying face down.
  • Supine: A body is said to be in a supine position when it is lying face up and on the back.

Body organs and cavities

  • Abdominal cavity: The cavity holds the digestive organs and the kidneys.
  • Buccal cavity: The inside of the mouth.
  • Cranial cavity: The cavity contains the brain and fills up most of the upper part of the skull.
  • Cerebellum: Largest section of the hindbrain.
  • Cerebrum: Largest part of the brain which consists of two hemispheres.
  • Cervix: Found at the lower end of the uterus and above the vagina in females.
  • Clitoris: External genitalia found in females located in the vulva.
  • Duodenum: First part of the small intestine.
  • Epiglottis: A flap in the throat which prevents food and water from entering the windpipe.
  • Hymen: Thin layer of mucosal tissue that covers the external opening of the vagina.
  • Jugular vein: These veins located in the neck drain the deoxygenated blood from the neck, brain and face.
  • Labia majora: Outer lip of the vagina which is covered with pubic hair.
  • Labia minora: Inner lip of the vagina which lies inside the labia majora.
  • Larynx: Structure made from cartilage, muscles and ligaments that guards the trachea as well as helps produce sound, also known as voice box.
  • Pelvic cavity: The cavity holds the reproductive organs as well as organs used for excretion.
  • Perineum: Area between the vaginal opening and the anus.
  • Rectum: Portion of the large intestine that terminates into the anus.
  • Thoracic cavity: It is also known as the chest cavity and holds the lungs and the heart.
  • Trachea: Also known as the windpipe, it transports air to the lungs
  • Vagina: The muscular canal that connects the uterus to the external female genitalia.
  • Viscera: Internal organs of the body, specifically those within the chest and abdomen.
  • Vitreous Humor: Colourless fluid in the eye which may be used to estimate time since death.
  • Vulva: External female genitalia that consists of labia majora, labia minora, clitoris and hymen.

Major bones

  • Clavicle: Also known as the collarbone, connects the arm to the body.
  • Fibula: Also known as the calf bone, is located on the lateral side of the tibia.
  • Femur: Also known as the thigh bone is the longest and strongest bone in our body.
  • Humerus: It is a long bone that connects the shoulder to the elbow.
  • Mandible: It is the lower jaw.
  • Patella: Also known as the kneecap, it protects the knee joint.
  • Pelvic girdle: Also known as the pelvis, it connects the trunks to the leg and supports urinary bladder, intestines and internal sex organs.
  • Radius: One of the two bones found in the forearm.
  • Scapula: Also known as the shoulder blade, it connects the upper arm to the collar bone.
  • Sternum: Also known as the breastbone, it connects the ribs to form the rib cage, which helps protect lungs and heart.
  • Tibia: Also known as the shin bone, it connects the knee joint to the ankle joint.
  • Ulna: One of the two bones found in the forearm.

Major veins and arteries

  • Aorta: Main artery that supplies oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
  • Carotid arteries: These arteries located in the neck supply oxygenated blood to the neck, brain and face.
  • Femoral artery: Main artery that supplies oxygenated blood to the thigh and leg.
  • Jugular veins: These veins located in the neck drain the deoxygenated blood from the neck, brain and face
  • Superior vena cava: Large vein that drains the deoxygenated blood into the heart.

Conditions, injuries and diseases

  • Abrasion: Superficial injury to the skin.
  • Ante mortem: Condition or injury that is observed in the body before death.
  • Asphyxia: Condition where there is lack of oxygen in the body which can lead to unconsciousness and death.
  • Congenital: Since birth.
  • Contusion: Also known as bruise, injury that leads to blood vessels bursting underneath the skin.
  • Cyanosis: Bluish coloration of skin due to deficiency of oxygen.
  • Cyst: Pocket of membranous tissue that is filled up with fluid, air or other substances.
  • Edema: Swelling which occurs due to buildup of fluid.
  • Entry and exit wounds: Wounds used to describe the trajectory of a projectile. Entry wounds refer to the wound through which a projectile such as a bullet entered the body while exit wounds refer to the wound through which it exited the body.
  • Fracture: Break of bone.
  • Hemorrhage: Discharge of blood from blood vessels.
  • Hypoxia: Lack of enough oxygen to the whole body or certain parts of the body.
  • Incised wound: Injury due to sharp edged object that divides everything in its path. Incised wounds are rather longer on the skin than deep into the tissue.
  • Laceration: Injury due to blunt force leading to tear or split in the skin.
  • Lesion: Damage to the tissue due to injury or disease.
  • Ligature: Objects used for tying something. Ligature marks refer to the injuries caused due to tying of a body part.
  • Petechiae: Spots that occur on the skin due to bleeding.
  • Puncture: Wound made by a pointed object.
  • Pulmonary congestion: Accumulation of fluid in the lungs.
  • Singeing: Burnt hair, usually found around entry wounds in case of a firearm injury.
  • Subdural hematoma: Pooling of blood between the brain and its outermost covering.
  • Tattooing: When partial or unburnt particles of gunpowder are embedded onto the skin around an entry wound in case of a firearm injury. Presence of this is usually indicative of intermediate range of fire.

Tests and medical procedures

  • Autopsy: Post mortem examination of deceased to discover all injuries and disease to determine possible cause of death.
  • Histology: Study of tissues.
  • Microbiology: The study of microscopic organisms such as bacteria and virus.
  • Radiology: Branch of medicine that uses medical imaging to study and diagnose conditions within the body.
  • Serology: Study of body fluids.
  • Toxicology: Examination of toxic substances including their detection and quantification.
  • Algor mortis: The change in body temperature after death.
  • Artefacts: Things which mimic injury or disease but are neither.
  • Livor mortis: Referred to as post mortem staining and is the bluish discolouration observed in the body after death. This is due to the pooling of the blood due to gravitational force. Also known as lividity or hypostasis.
  • Pallor mortis: Refers to the paleness which sets in the skin colour immediately after death due to the lack of circulation of blood in the body.
  • Putrefaction: Process of decay and tissue loss after death.
  • Rigor mortis: The stiffening of the muscles after death which is also referred to as post mortem rigidity.
© Project 39A, National Law University, Delhi
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