Being clinically dead is a condition where a person’s heart stops beating. The patient needs to be resuscitated as soon as possible.

“One, two, three…clear!” These are the words that we often hear in popular medical shows. We see doctors trying to resuscitate patients with paddles. The patient, at this point of time, is clinically dead. This is often followed by CPR or cardiopulmonary resuscitation. All this helps in bringing the person back to life. A heart attack can often be followed by a person being clinically dead. This is when the heart stops pumping blood. A person dies biologically after about four to six minutes, when there is lack of oxygen in the body, and cells in the heart, brain and other organs starts to die. Let us tell you what it means to be clinically dead after a heart attack.

What does it mean to be clinically dead?

When someone is clinically dead after a heart attack, it means their heart has stopped beating, and they are not breathing. “It’s a very serious condition. Immediate intervention is critical, and medical professionals may employ advanced life support techniques such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation to restore the heart’s rhythm,” says cardiologist Dr Chirag D. The goal is to revive the individual swiftly, as a prolonged state of clinical death can result in irreversible damage to vital organs, particularly the brain, due to oxygen deprivation.

What it means to be clinically dead
CPR can help revive a person who is clinically dead. Image courtesy: Freepik

What happens to the body when you are clinically dead?

A person is considered clinically dead when their heart and breathing have completely stopped. “Doctors may use specific tests to determine if someone is clinically dead. A person is considered clinically dead when specific tests, such as checking for responsiveness and vital signs, confirm the absence of life functions,” he explains.

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How long can a person be clinically dead?

The goal is to bring a person back to life as soon as possible. The longer someone is clinically dead, the harder it is to revive them. That’s why immediate medical attention is crucial. “It’s important to stress that the duration a person can be clinically dead without irreversible damage varies. The brain is particularly sensitive to the lack of oxygen, and after a few minutes without blood flow, brain cells can start to die,” says Dr Chirag.

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What does it mean to be brain dead?

Brain dead means the brain has stopped working, and the person cannot think, feel, or move. It’s a very serious condition, and unfortunately, there is no way to reverse it. “Brain death is a legal and medical determination that goes beyond the cessation of brain activity. The criteria for declaring brain death involve a thorough neurological examination conducted by qualified healthcare professionals,” says Dr Chirag. This examination assesses the absence of all brain functions, including responsiveness, reflexes, and the ability to breathe without mechanical support. Brain death is irreversible, and once it is determined, it is legally equivalent to death.

A picture of a white rose, signifying death of a person.
Biological death occurs when the cells of the heart, brain and other organs die due to lack of oxygen. Image courtesy: Freepik

How does being clinically dead impact the body in the long run?

If someone is brought back to life quickly, the impact can be minimal. However, if the body is without oxygen for too long, it can lead to serious complications, affecting organs and overall health. “It’s important to highlight that the consequences of being clinically dead depend on the duration of the absence of oxygen and blood flow to vital organs. Swift resuscitation can result in minimal long-term effects. However, extended periods of clinical death can lead to severe complications, particularly affecting the brain, heart, and other vital organs,” says Dr Chirag.

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Prolonged oxygen deprivation may result in cognitive deficits, neurological damage, or impaired organ function. It underscores the critical importance of swift intervention to minimise the potential for lasting harm and emphasizes the need for ongoing medical evaluation to assess and address any lingering effects on overall health.

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