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11 Things That Happen When You Die

Aug. 20 2009, Published 9:41 a.m. ET

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Depending on your beliefs, death can be the ultimate end or a brand new beginning. But we're not really concerned about that. decided to ignore speculation about what happens "next" and put together this list of what happens during the process of death.

11. Lack of Oxygen Burn

If we're talking sudden death as opposed to lingering illness, the most significant factor is the lack of air. All living things are a massive collection of cells. When these are deprived of oxygen, they can't burn oxygen, which is how they create energy. 

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10. Acidosis

When cells are denied oxygen, they undergo a process known as acidosis. This generates acid that kills them and other neighboring cells, sending toxins into the bloodstream. This kills blood cells and other tissue formations.

9. Livor Mortis

After a person's heart stops, the blood stops flowing and clots in the parts of the body closest to the ground. This is known as livor mortis (livor being Latin for bluish). Why is it called that? Because it  makes the surrounding body parts turn a ghastly bluish-purple, natch.

8. Brain Electrical Activity Halts

The brain's electrical activity is used to determine if a person has died. An electroencephalography test (EEG) is performed to determine whether neurons are still firing.  Once the brain goes, other major organs like heart and lungs are no longer given the automatic instructions they need to operate.

7. Algor Mortis

Without air, a person's body temperature drops, usually to room temperature, losing heat from the outside, then inside. This is known as algor mortis.

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6. Facial Color Change

Upon expiring, the color of a person's face changes, ranging at first from yellow to grey, then bluish-black. The jaw sags and becomes locked open (often requiring wires to keep it closed at a funeral).

5. Milky Eyes

The eyes are one indication that someone is past the point of resuscitation. They flatten slightly (instead of maintaining their usual round shape) and turn milky. Like in a zombie movie, the eyes will roll up and back in the head, only exhibiting the whites of the eyes.

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4. Muscle Tissue Solidifies

While the body may be limp and lifeless shortly after dying, muscle tissue solidifies. The body fills with lactic acid waste (which is no longer being discharged) which causes the threads of the muscles to stiffen. Hence the expression for a dead body: "a stiff." This is known as "rigor mortis."

3. Enzymes Destroy Tissue

Tissues start getting digested by enzymes that are released in dying cells. So while the skin was blue to start, it begins changing color if left unpreserved for over 48 hours. It gets creamy white thanks to these "autolysins."   

2. Putrefaction

Immediately following death, bacteria goes to work on the internal organs, setting off a sequence of events known as putrefaction. The abdomen swells with bacterial waste. Organs begin to pop. Eventually, the body will collapse, deflate, and dry up.

1. The Smell

An upleasant side effect of decomposing bodies is the super-strong smell the body emits. Depending on how long the corpse has been resting, the smell can be so rotten that it adheres to any unlucky discoverer's hair, clothes, and in their nostrils for days. This stench is due to the massive amount of decay occurring within the corpse.



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