What physically happens in the body hours after death?

Death is an uncomfortable and sensitive subject for most people. In general, there is an underlying concern about the different phases the body goes through before it. In this sense, some people wonder what physically happens in the body hours after death.

The irreversible cessation of vital functions that allow life is a dynamic phenomenon influenced by various factors. Education state it After death, a series of changes take place in the body. structural, physical and chemical known as cadaveric phenomena.

In this way, the dying process goes through several stages. Each of these physical modifications occurs over a certain period of time and are useful for forensic and forensic medicine.

the state of death

Most people consider the state of death to be pulselessness and cessation of breathing. However, describes a complex process that goes beyond circulatory and pulmonary collapsewhich in some cases may be reversible with resuscitation.

Currently, Education Electrocardiographs from deceased patients suggest that the human brain continues to function up to 10 minutes after death. In this sense the body could somehow remain aware of the imminence of death.

In this way, health professionals Various criteria are used to declare the death of a person. These include lack of response to reflexes and absence of pupillary contraction to light, as well as irreversible cessation of pulse and respiration.

What are the changes that the body undergoes after death?

When life dies out, the human body undergoes numerous modifications deriving from the biochemical processes of the corpse and from exposure to the surrounding environment. In this sense, it is possible to classify these physical alterations into early and late changes.

Take the pulse.
Although traditionally the pulse is considered the element that determines death, the truth is that at that moment several parameters must be certified for the declaration of death.

first changes

The first changes are those that occur in the body 24 hours after death. Inside them we can find the following.


With the cessation of pumping blood from the heart, the skin tends to turn pale in the first few minutes after death. Then, the blood will begin to distribute by gravity to the parts of the body closest to the ground, forming bruises or livor mortis. These are nothing but purplish spots in areas of decline.

In general, these injuries are very useful in determining the position of the body at the time of death. These can be changed by moving the body within the first 12 hours. After 24 hours of death, no new ones will form.

Cooling down

A characteristic sign of death is the loss of body temperature or algor mortis. This cadaveric cooling takes place in the first 24 hours after death, until the corpse acquires the temperature of the surrounding air.

Upon death, heat loss occurs at a rate of 1 degree Celsius per hour, depending on atmospheric conditions. The cold is usually most noticeable early on in the face and hands, and later in the neck and underarms. Overweight people tend to cool down more slowly.


In the first hour after death, all smooth and striated muscles in the body begin to relax in a phase known as primary flaccidity. For this reason, the joints of the body become flexible, the eyelids lose tone and the jaw tends to open.

After, a state of hardening and petrification of the muscles will be established known as rigor mortis. This begins in the smallest muscles of the face and works its way down to the rest of the body, promoting their discrete retraction. It reaches its maximum intensity between 12 and 15 hours after death.


This phenomenon is the result of continuous and passive exposure of body fluids to the environment.. Dehydration usually manifests itself with parchment of the skin, desiccation of the mucous membranes and genitals and collapse of the eyeballs.

Likewise, it is common for there to be an accentuation of bony prominences in the chest, chest and hips. Also, in young children there is a sharp and general weight loss.

late changes

Late changes in the body occur within the first 24-36 hours after death. They obey the natural evolution of the corpse and lead to the progressive destruction of organs and tissues. In this sense, we can find the following phenomena.

Autolysis or self-digestion

Self-digestion begins when the heart stops beating and the tissues are deprived of oxygen. However, the physical changes begin to become apparent several hours later. Research They argue that this stage it is the result of the action of enzymes in the body on cell membranes.

Likewise, the phenomenon usually begins with greater intensity in the liver, kidneys, adrenal glands and stomach. Also, the brain is prone to autolysis due to its high water content.

Autolysis in death.
The destruction of cell membranes is what characterizes autolysis.


The cadaveric ecosystem consists of bacteria that live in and on the surface of the body. The gut microbiota, especially that of the cecum, is the major source of germs in the human body. However, while the person is alive, most organs are free of microbes.

In this sense, shortly after he died turns off the immune system and the bacteria can spread freely to all fabrics. This fact conditions the onset of putrefaction due to the fermentative action of bacterial enzymes on the cells.

In the first 24-48 hours, greenish and blackish spots appear around the abdomen due to the action of anaerobic bacteria on the blood vessels. Subsequently, the gas produced by microbial action causes abdominal distension, eye protrusion and tongue protrusion.

This fact gives way to the final stage of decomposition known as liquefaction. In this, the tissues are destroyed and are expelled as a brown, putrefied liquid. Likewise, the body progressively decreases in volume and is subsequently destroyed by the action of insects and other animals.

A complex process that begins with the cessation of vital functions

Death is a complex pathological state that begins with the irreversible collapse of vital functions and the cessation of brain capacity. After death, the human body undergoes a series of physical and biochemical changes and modifications that lead to the decomposition of all organs and tissues.

In general, these alterations occur continuously in all cadavers, being influenced by the cause of death and environmental variations. Likewise, they are the main object of study of legal and forensic medicine.

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