7 Surprising Facts About What Happens To Your Body When You Die

Published February 5, 2018
Updated December 20, 2018

From bowel movements to rigor mortis, here's what's in store for your body after the sweet release of death.

What Happens To Your Body When You Die

Wikimedia CommonsA toe tag on a dead body in the morgue.

Everyone dies. It’s just a matter of time. How each person bites the big one differs, of course, but what happens to your body when you die?

Take a look at seven fascinating things that happen to your body after you take your final breath.

1. You Release Urine And Feces

Albert Anastasia Crime Scene

George Silk/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesDetectives take notes and examine the barbershop of New York’s Park Sheraton Hotel, where the body of Murder Inc.’s Albert Anastasia lies, partially covered, on the floor after his murder by unknown gunmen.

All of your muscles relax after you die because they are no longer receiving instructions from your brain. As soon as your body expires, it releases urine and feces because the muscles holding those fluids back are no longer tense. You probably stink a little, and it’s a mess to clean up.

2. Your Skin Shrinks

Saltman Mummy

Wikimedia CommonsThe body of Salt Man 3, on display at the Archeology Museum in Zanjan.

Legend has it your hair and nails grow a bit after you die. That’s not really true because, in reality, it’s your skin shrinking. Your skin loses its moisture and its elasticity, so it shrivels up a bit. This effect makes it look like your fingernails, toenails and hair grew longer since you passed away. It’s not a magic trick, just an optical illusion.

3. You Get Really, Really Tense

Dyatlov Pass Frozen Body

YouTubeA body from the Dyatlov Pass incident.

Within minutes to a few hours after death, a condition known as rigor mortis sets in. This occurs when calcium builds up in your muscles and causes your limbs to go completely stiff. Your muscles start to degrade after a day or two, so then you become your bendable, pliable self again.

4. Red Splotches Appear

Lord Bryon Death Painting

Wikimedia CommonsLord Byron on his Death-bed by Joseph Dionysius Odevaere.

Red splotches appear on your skin, not from blood seeping to the surface but because gravity pulls your skin downward. Areas appear redder than normal because your skin becomes pale while blood maintains its color. At about the same time, your body starts to really smell because decaying flesh releases certain chemicals into your body.

5. You Might Moan And Groan

Buried Alive Painting

Wikimedia CommonsThe Premature Burial by Antoine Wiertz.

You still have air in your lungs, which means you might moan or groan after you’re dead. Minimally you could sigh or squeak.

No, that doesn’t mean you come back from the dead. This means someone handled your body in such a way that the air in your lungs escaped through your throat and into your vocal cords.

If someone rolls you over onto your side, air would bubble up from your lungs, into your throat, over your vocal cords, and through your mouth or nose. A mortician could freak people out doing that trick.

6. Someone Might Perform A Post-Mortem Exam

Bonnie And Clyde Dead

Huffington Post UKBonnie and Clyde in the morgue after their death.

A mortician or coroner could perform a post-mortem exam at the request of your family or the authorities. A coroner or doctor starts by examining the exterior of your corpse and notes any details, such as identifying marks, tattoos, signs of illness and any physical injuries.

After that, the medical professional gets into your gut with an incision around the sternum and up to the rib cage to expose and remove internal organs. Working top to bottom the person performing the post-mortem examines the throat, lungs, heart and major blood vessels around the heart. Then the doctor works down to the stomach, pancreas, and liver. Finally, the coroner checks the kidneys, bowels, bladder and reproductive organs.

The doctor’s incision stops in the middle of the chest because if the family wants to view the body, later on, there aren’t any incision up to the chin. It’s through the chest cavity that the doctor removes the tongue and windpipe. After removal, the doctor carefully examines all of the internal organs one at a time. The mortician then carefully cuts the scalp and saws through the skull to examine parts of the brain.

Once the examination is complete, all of the organs are put back in their places, and the body is sewn up and ready for whatever funeral your family deems appropriate.

7. You Decay For Several Weeks

What Happens To Your Body When You Die Rotting Corpse

Wikimedia CommonsThe decomposed corpse of a German man.

Bacteria, especially those that normally live in your gut and aid digestion, start to work on your body once they realize they are free to roam about your corpse. Maggots might take hold and consume around 60 percent of your body within a week. If you are in a sealed casket at 50 degrees Fahrenheit, scientists estimate it takes about four months for your flesh to rot away until you become a literal skeleton of your former self.

Don’t worry–you have nothing to fear. You don’t feel or see any of this happening because your brain dies shortly after your body. A study in 2017 reveals that a patient’s brain may emit brainwave activity for a few seconds up to 10 minutes after your body expires.

Enjoy this article on what happens to your body when you die? Next, learn about the strange deaths of 16 historic figures. Then learn about how a human body decomposes.

William DeLong
A graduate of Missouri State University with a degree in English and creative writing, William DeLong is a freelance wordsmith who has written approximately 40,000 articles since 2009.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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DeLong, William. "7 Surprising Facts About What Happens To Your Body When You Die." AllThatsInteresting.com, February 5, 2018, https://allthatsinteresting.com/what-happens-to-your-body-when-you-die. Accessed June 13, 2024.