Death Occurs in Stages


The heart stops, the body convulses, the person starts taking short gasping breaths, and the ears become cold due to the lack of circulation. The blood turns acidic, the larynx loses its cough reflex and a build up of mucous may occur. The passage of breath through this mucous due to spasms will cause a gurgling or rattle-like sound. This specific sound is also known as the “death rattle.” The lungs shut down and the brain also stops functioning. However, if the brain stem is still alive, the body still retains the ability to heal and perform other crucial functions.

0 Minutes
Clinical death arrives as the brain stops getting oxygen. This death of the brain eventually shuts down other vital bodily functions including circulation throughout the body and to the extremities. Pallor mortis, paleness of the body, sets in almost immediately because of lack of blood circulation. The pupils begin to have a glassy appearance and the body temperature begins to slowly drop due to depleting oxygen levels. This may be why many crime dramas use the plotline of a killer turning down the thermostat to keep the body cooler than it should be and give the police a false timeline of death

1 – 9 Minutes
Blood starts pooling in the body, which starts causing discoloration called livor mortis, usually a reddish-blue color. The muscles relax which results in the bowels and bladder beginning to empty. Brain cells die in droves and liquefaction occurs. Pupils begin to dilate, unresponsive to direct light, and “cloud” over. The cloudy appearance of the pupils results from potassium in the red blood cells breaking down. This process can take longer (approximately 3 hours) but, because many people die with their eyes open, the process often occurs in this time frame. Some forensic scientists believe this clouding of the eye can be a better indication of the time of death than rigor mortis and livor mortis. The eyeballs flatten due to loss of blood pressure. At the end of this time frame, the brain stem dies.

1 – 8 Hours
Rigor mortis begins to set in. This stage is where the muscles become stiff and the hair stands up. Rigor mortis is due to the lactic acid in the muscles causing rigidity in the tissue. This is why it appears that the hair seems to grow longer after death because the stiffening muscles push on the hair follicle. After four to six hours, rigor mortis begins to spread more throughout the body. The pooled blood begins to stain the skin a blackish color. At six hours muscles continue to spasm sporadically. Anaerobic processes, such as the liver’s breakdown of alcohol, continue. At eight hours the body starts to rapidly cool. This is called algor mortis. This is different than the initial cooling in that this process of cooling is much faster.

1 – 5 Days
Rigor mortis ends at the beginning of this stage and the body again becomes pliable. If the body happens to be discovered, presentable, and in a mortuary, the undertaker takes advantage of this stage to position the body for presentation at a funeral (folding hands and such). At 24 to 72 hours, internal microbes putrefy the intestines and the pancreas begins to digest itself. This process liquefies the insides. In 3 to 5 days, decay starts to produce large blisters all over the body. If a body is not found until this stage, it will most likely not be presentable for viewing at a funeral. Bloody froth begins to trickle from your mouth and nose.

8 – 10 Days
Bacteria, located in the intestines, feed off of dead tissue and give off gases. These gases cause the belly to begin to swell. The body starts to emit an odor during this purification. This is also called “the bloat stage.” The tongue will protrude out of the mouth due to the swelling of tissues in the neck and face. This swelling of the neck and facial tissues makes the body hard to identify if it is found at this stage after death. The formation of gases also causes any remaining feces or liquid in the body to be forced out. Sounds like the ultimate wet fart. The color of the body changes from red to green as the red blood cells decompose.



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