Death study: Research reveals exactly how long before death takes hold

Doctor says hospitals are ‘full to breaking point’

Revolutionary new research has tallied the times a dying patient’s heart spontaneously – if only briefly – recommences its ticking after they have been presumed to have passed. Until only relatively recently, death was only acquainted with cardiac arrest, meaning an ability to find a pulse was all that was required.

However, thanks to modern medical advances, experts now understand everything – from brain activity to a cell’s metabolising – each ends at their own time.

Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario doctors working with the Canadian Donation and Transplantation Research Program measured cardiac activity and blood pressure at hundreds of intensive care units from three countries.

Waiting until a patient has died is notoriously difficult for those who are freshly grieving.

But despite numerous attempts to come to reach a consensus recognising when a life ends, has yet to materialise.

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Vital signs checklists and brain stem activity are extremely complex, causing many medical systems to rely on circulation as an indicator of life under specific circumstances, including when life-support has recently been removed.

Five minutes is a widely accepted count, despite a specific time period of an absent breath and pulse varying around the world.

Instances of organ retrieval occurring in just over a minute of pulse absence for infants can be particularly heartbreaking.

This can mean even the most scientific-minded people can be forgiven for holding out some hope of a heart jumping back into life – underling the importance of research such as this.

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Among the 480 patients who qualified for the study and had ample data available, only 14 percent showed signs of a returning heartbeat.

On average, this flicker lasted only a few seconds and none in the study regained life.

Of those who experienced a brief pulse, just five percent exhibited a heartbeat in any way noticeable.

As for the rest, evidence of their cardiac activity had to wait until a review of their electrocardiogram (ECG) data occurred.

In 55 cases, heartbeat resumptions followed a flatline period lasting between one and two minutes.

The longest any of the patients went without a heartbeat – followed by a short return to having a pulse – was a whole four minutes, 20 seconds.

Focusing on the 32 patients who had agreed to be organ donors, there were just two resumptions of cardiac activity; one at a little more than a minute and another at 151 seconds.

Taken in tandem with measures of failing arterial pressure and particulars of the electrical activity spiking across the heart, the revolutionary research supports the ‘five minute rule’ of cardiac arrest.

This is at least the case for those who had been relying on life support – for others, more involved measures may be necessary.

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