Revealed ... what really happens when you die

WHEN it comes to death, the manner of passing is often more of a worry than the idea of embracing the end.

From the agony of severe burns to the curious serenity which reportedly overtakes the victims of drowning, there is no shortage of ways to die.

However, New Scientist magazine has now debunked some myths surrounding the worst ways to die by studying post-mortem examinations and reports of near-death experiences.

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The magazine examined some of the most unpleasant causes of death - from bleeding to decapitation and, in the most extreme cases, explosive decompression - and found that, while the physical injuries from each were gruesome, a lack of oxygen to the brain usually delivered the coup de grce.

Cynthia McVey, a psychologist at Glasgow Caledonian University, said our personalities could influence the method of our death: "There are those who, when trapped in a burning house, will throw themselves from a window even if there is no need to. Some people will do this because they panic at what they see is the most pressing danger.

"People want to go with the least amount of suffering and violence - something that will not humiliate them in the final moments."


Victims first panic and try to hold their breath, then there is a "tearing and burning" sensation as water enters the lungs, followed by calmness and tranquility. Oxygen deprivation results in loss of consciousness, then death.


Introduced in the US in 1977, it involves three drug injections which result in heart failure. There are fears that some prisoners have felt the burning pain of the first injection, but paralysis has prevented them from showing it.


Experts have calculated the brain may function for several seconds after decapitation. Reports from guillotine executions in 18th-century France cited cases where facial movements continued for up to 30 seconds after decapitation.


Strangulation by hanging can lead to unconsciousness in ten seconds. "Long-drop" hangings are designed to break the neck, but a study of prisoners executed this way found 80 per cent died partly from asphyxiation.


Burns inflict intense pain, which helps to lessen pain sensitivity as superficial nerves are destroyed. Therefore some feeling is lost - but not much. Most people who die in fires are killed by inhaling toxic gases and asphyxiation.


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Fall survivors often report a feeling of time slowing down. A study of 100 suicide jumps from the 246ft Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco found deaths caused by collapsed lungs, exploded hearts or damage to organs from broken ribs.


A household electric shock might stop the heart, leading to unconsciousness after ten seconds. But it is claimed that prisoners executed with the electric chair may actually have died from heating of the brain or suffocation.


Marked by several stages of "haemorrhagic shock". Anyone losing 1.5 litres of blood feels weak, thirsty and anxious. By the time two litres are lost, people experience dizziness, confusion and eventual unconsciousness.


A "squeezing" chest pain is the most common symptom as the heart muscle struggles for oxygen. Disruption of the normal heart rhythm stops the heart beating. Loss of consciousness can occur in seconds, with death following.


Human survivors of rapid decompression include pilots and one NASA technician who suffered a vacuum chamber accident. They often report initial pain, similar to being hit in the chest. Unconsciousness generally occurs in less than 15 seconds.