What if your brain dies

Physiology of dying

What happens in the body when it dies?

Dying can be seen as a process that is also reflected in the body. When a person dies, the body changes little by little and symptoms arise that may initially be unfamiliar to the relatives, but which can be explained physiologically.

The first signs of the dying phase are often that the dying person needs a lot more sleep than usual and perhaps speaks little. Sometimes very unclear messages arise that can no longer be understood by the relatives. The consciousness becomes more and more limited and it can even lead to states of confusion.

The body of the dying shuts down the metabolism because it no longer needs to build up resources. The brain sends out stress messengers. These two processes mean that food and drink are often refused because the body simply no longer needs them. Many loved ones fear that their loved ones will die of thirst if they are not given enough fluids. But the reduced amount of fluid can be beneficial for the body, as it leads to the release of endorphins, which have a calming effect and can relieve pain. However, it is important to carry out good oral care, as the feeling of thirst is triggered through the mucous membranes. Moistening them regularly brings relief.

The blood withdraws to the center to supply the most important organs such as the heart, lungs and brain. This often leads to the hands and feet getting cold. There may also be bluish spots and blue nails, as these are no longer completely supplied with blood. The gastrointestinal tract also gradually ceases to work, the kidneys are less supplied with blood. Therefore, hardly any urine is excreted and toxins accumulate in the blood. This can lead to the fact that the patient becomes more and more tired.

Ultimately, breathing also changes during the last hours and minutes of life before death occurs. Breathing pauses of a few seconds can occur again and again, after which, however, breathing starts again. Often you can hear the so-called rattle breathing. Since coughing and swallowing are no longer possible, the mucus collects in the upper airways, cannot be coughed up and, so to speak, oscillates back and forth in the air we breathe. This creates the sound of a “rattling” that often scares relatives, as they fear the dying person might feel short of breath or suffocate. This form of breathing is also known as the death rattle. But rattle breathing is not a burden for the dying person, even if it sounds threatening. The forced administration of fluids can intensify the rattle breathing, but it can also be lessened with medication. Many dying people are no longer conscious, but it is certainly assumed that the dying person feels that he is being looked after in the form of oral care, touching, music, etc.

Another phenomenon that worries many is the so-called gasping breath, which can be the last. Long, irregular and deep breaths with several minute breaks in between follow. This breathing occurs as follows: The heart beats slower and slower until it finally comes to a standstill. This means that the body is no longer supplied with oxygen. The brain ceases to function. After all, the cerebrum is already exposed, only the brain stem sends a final signal in the form of this breathing. However, the dying person no longer notices this because he is no longer conscious.

The dying process can show itself in different ways. The mentioned aspects can occur - but do not have to be. It can be seen that dying is often like living. People who have been rather quiet in their lives often also go quietly on the journey. People who have always been doers and fighters may walk as they have lived and the process often takes hours and days and can sometimes be experienced as arduous for relatives.

But when looking back on the dying, relatives mostly say that the dying process suited the respective person and their life and that this time of accompanying while dying was a very valuable and unique time.