Death is inevitable for all of us, yet scientists know very little about the process behind it. Ultimately, everyone’s experience of it is also different, but there are a few insights which doctors have observed.
Studies on the natural phenomenon are few and far between, which has left medical experts publishing their own experiences with patients.
One expert on palliative care has stated that the process of dying usually happens around two weeks before the heart stops beating for the final time.
Seamus Coyle, honorary research fellow at the University of Liverpool, talked through the process of dying in an article for The Conversation.
He said: “As an expert on palliative care, I think there is a process to dying that happens two weeks before we pass. During this time, people tend to become less well.
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“They typically struggle to walk and become sleepier – managing to stay awake for shorter and shorter periods.
“Towards the last days of life, the ability to swallow tablets or consume food and drinks eludes them.
“It is around this time that we say people are ‘actively dying’, and we usually think this means they have two to three days to live.
“A number of people, however, will go through this entire phase within a day.
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“Ultimately, every death is different – and you can’t predict who is going to have a peaceful death”
“And some people can actually stay at the cusp of death for nearly a week before they die, something which usually is extremely distressing for families
I think there is a process to dying that happens two weeks before we pass
“So there are different things going on with different people and we cannot predict them.”
What actually goes on in the body at the moment of death is largely unknown, but some studies predict a rush of chemicals are released from the brain.
These include endorphins, which can induce euphoric feelings in a person.
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“The actual moment of death is tricky to decipher”
Mr Coyle said: “The actual moment of death is tricky to decipher. But a yet unpublished study suggests that, as people get closer to death, there is an increase in the body’s stress chemicals.
“For people with cancer, and maybe others, too, inflammatory markers go up.
“These are the chemicals that increase when the body is fighting an infection.
“In general, it seems like people’s pain declines during the dying process.
Death is inevitable for us all
“We don’t know why that is – it could be related to endorphins. Again, no research has yet been done on this.
“Ultimately, every death is different – and you can’t predict who is going to have a peaceful death. I think some of those I have seen die didn’t benefit from a rush of feel-good chemicals.
“I can think of a number of younger people in my care, for example, who found it difficult to accept that they were dying.
“They had young families and never settled during the dying process.”