How does it feel to suffocate

Dying feelings: You only die once


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Does it feel terrible to gradually lose consciousness when you die - or do you take it calmly? What surprises await us in the last moments of our existence? Questions like these have not only preoccupied philosophers and scientists for many centuries, almost everyone will probably ask them at some point in their life.

Of course, we only get final answers when our own final hour has struck. Until then, we have to be content with the poignant accounts of people who have already been very close to death. And with the latest knowledge of medicine, thanks to which we always better understand what happens when the mind leaves the body forever.

Death has many faces, that much is certain. As a rule, however, it is sealed by a lack of oxygen in the brain: whether as a result of a heart attack, drowning or suffocation, in the end people die because the nerve cells in their brain are no longer adequately supplied. Soon thereafter, electrical activity can no longer be measured - according to the modern definition, death has occurred.

If - for whatever reason - no more oxygen-containing blood flows into the brain, in most cases a person only has about ten seconds before they lose consciousness. However, it can take much longer to die. Exactly how long depends on the cause and circumstances of death. The following examples give an overview of the creepy details of passing away.

Drowning - The struggle on the surface of the water
A dark romanticism has always surrounded drowning: Countless heroines of literature committed suicide by throwing themselves into the floods. In fact, choking on water is neither pleasant nor painless - even if it is often surprisingly quick. How long it takes depends mainly on the swimmer's qualities and the water temperature. In the UK, where sea water is often very cold, 55 percent of victims drown no more than ten feet from a shore or boat. In addition, a third of the victims can swim well. That shows that you can be in danger within seconds, says Mike Tipton, a physiologist at the University of Portsmouth.

If the victim can no longer keep his head above water, the typical 20 to 60 second struggle for survival begins on the surface. The doomed man gasps for air above water, holding his breath under water. His body hangs upright in the water, with the last of his strength he moves his arms as if he wanted to hang up a ladder.

If he finally goes under, he holds his breath for as long as possible, usually 30 to 90 seconds. Then he inhales some water, chokes, coughs and inhales some more. The windpipe closes as a reflex. The water now prevents gas exchange in the lungs. "At first there is a bit of a burn in the chest when the water runs down the windpipe, but then a feeling of calm spreads in the body," says Tipton - the onset of unconsciousness, which is ultimately followed by cardiac arrest and brain death.

Burning - Most of the time, toxic gases cause death
For a long time it was the fate of witches to die in agony in fire. Smoke and flames sear your eyebrows and hair, and burn your throat and airways, making it difficult to breathe.

Burns quickly cause severe pain, which gets worse because they provoke an inflammatory response in the body, increasing sensitivity. As the burn progressed, the pain subsided, but not significantly, says David Herndon, a specialist at the University of Texas. “Third-degree burns aren't as painful as second-degree burns because the nerves on the surface of the skin are already destroyed. Big burn wounds are incredibly painful in all cases. "

Some victims report that they did not feel their burns while they were still in danger. But when the adrenaline rush and shock wear off, the pain comes quickly.

Most of the victims do not die directly from the burns, however, but from poisonous combustion gases: carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide or even hydrogen cyanide gas.

A Danish study found in 1996 that three quarters of the 286 examined victims had suffered carbon monoxide poisoning. Depending on the size of the fire and how close it is, the resulting carbon monoxide can lead to headaches and drowsiness and ultimately to unconsciousness within a few minutes.

According to the American Fire Brigade Association, 40 percent of the victims die from the poisoning before they wake up again.



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Bleeding to death - A feeling of weakness, thirst, and fear
How quickly a person bleeds to death depends on the location and size of the wound, says emergency medic John Kortbeek of the University of Alberta in Canada. People die within a few seconds if their aorta - the main bloodstream that leads away from the heart - is badly injured in a fall or a car accident.

Death creeps in much more slowly, however, when a smaller vein or artery is damaged. Sometimes it even takes a few hours for an injured person to succumb to such bleeding. In these cases, the victim goes through various stages of hemorrhagic shock.

There are five liters of blood circulating in the average adult body. If you lose about three quarters of a liter, you usually hardly notice anything. The loss of 1.5 liters - whether through an external wound or internal bleeding - leads to weakness, thirst and fear. The affected person's breathing accelerates. If two liters or more of blood are missing, they will feel dizzy, confused, and eventually lose consciousness.

“People who have survived hemorrhagic shock describe very different experiences. Some were afraid, others felt relatively relaxed, ”says John Kortbeek. "It basically has to do with what injuries they had - and how bad they were."

A single, heavily bleeding wound on a femoral artery is far less painful than a multitude of open bone fractures that one sustained in a car accident.

Crash - land feet first if possible!
Falling from a great height is surely one of the fastest ways to die. The maximum speed is around 200 kilometers per hour. This can be achieved by jumping from a height of 145 meters and more. A Hamburg study found that around 75 percent of victims die in the first few seconds after impact.

Getting to the hospital alive is especially unlikely if you land on your head. This happens especially when you fall from a height of less than 10 meters or more than 25 meters. The cause of death depends on the surface and the posture. An analysis of 100 suicide jumps from the Golden Gate Bridge (height: 75 meters, impact speed: 120 kilometers per hour) found numerous causes of death: bruised lungs, collapsed lungs, exploded hearts or arteries pierced by ribs.

Survivors often share the feeling that time passes more slowly when falling. Naturally, one tries to strike feet first, which results in breaking legs, spine, and pelvis. The aorta and heart chambers can also burst. Still, it is the safest landing - feet and legs serve as crumple zones and protect internal organs.

Climbers and skydivers who have survived a fall tell of their efforts to land properly: relaxed, with knees bent and ready to roll off. The best tip, however, is to land as softly as possible. A 1942 study reported a woman who fell 28 meters from her home onto freshly plowed ground. She got away with a broken rib and broken wrist.

Get a beat - the heart and brain are the most vulnerable
In household accidents with low voltages, cardiac arrhythmias are the most common cause of death and lead to cardiac arrest. People usually lose consciousness after ten seconds, says Richard Trohman, a heart specialist at Rush University in Chicago. However, higher voltages can also immediately cause a blackout.

The electric chair, for example, was specially designed so that the doomed to die painlessly: The current is passed directly through the head and heart. Whether the convicts actually die without pain is a matter of dispute. Studies in dogs in the 1950s showed that electrodes must be placed on either side of the head in order for sufficient current to flow through the brain and death to occur immediately. In addition, there have been many botched executions in the past, in which the heads of the prisoners suddenly caught fire.

A 2005 study on the bodies of 43 people executed on the electric chair found that most victims had burn marks on their heads and legs - where the electrodes were attached. However, the author believes that the burns occurred after death and that the victims died immediately from the electric shock.

John Wikswo, a biophysicist at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, argues that a person's thick, insulating skull bones could prevent quick death. Many victims would likely die because the electric shock heats their brains or paralyzes their respiratory muscles.

Suffering a Heart Attack - Don't confuse it with stomach ache!
The Hollywood-style heart attack - the sudden pain, the desperate grip on the chest and the immediate collapse - may exist. Usually, however, a heart attack is less dramatic and only announces itself with a slight discomfort.

The most common symptoms are actually chest pain, tightness, or a feeling of pressure - sometimes they last, sometimes they go away. They are caused by the heart muscle, which suffers from the effects of a lack of oxygen. The pain can radiate into the jaw, throat, back, stomach or even into the arms. There are also symptoms such as shortness of breath, runny nose and cold sweat.

Most victims wait two to six hours to call for help, and women on average even longer. Probably because they often have lesser-known symptoms, says JoAnn Manson, an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School. Survivors say they didn't want to make a big fuss. The heart attack felt more like an upset stomach, tiredness or a muscle cramp.

Every delay costs lives. Heart attack victims usually die before they even get to the hospital. The specific trigger of their death are often cardiac arrhythmias.

Even small heart attacks can lead to cardiac arrest. If the heart muscle fails, the affected person passes out in just ten seconds and dies in minutes. Those who make it to the hospital have better chances: In the UK and the US, more than 85 percent of heart attack patients survive at least 30 days.