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What Happens To The Human Body After Death? All About Decomposition.

Understanding human decomposition made easy

Writing upon what happens to the human body after death and how the whole process of body decomposition progresses, one would feel inclined to use the terminology that goes over a commoner’s head but I have tried to write this hub using bare minimum medical terms in an effort to make, as the headline says, understanding human decomposition easy.


The term 'Decomposition'.

Decomposition is the continuous process of gradual decay and disorganization of tissues and structures of body after death through a series of biochemical changes.

It is the final stage after death, synonymous with 'putrefaction', which usually follows the disappearance of rigor mortis (death stiffening that lasts for about 2 to 3 days).

It's the stage wherein the bacterial enzymes cause destruction of soft tissues of the body.

Clostridium welchii and the enzyme it produces, lecithinase, play the most important part in this process. Other bacteria also play a significant role.

And where do these bacteria enter our body from?

These organisms enter our body shortly after death, mainly from our own intestines, or respiratory passages or any external wound. And the fall in oxygen concentration in body after death facilitates their growth.

The first sign of decomposition that appears externally in a body lying in air is greenish coloration of skin over the area of the cecum (the lower part on right side of the abdomen).

This color then spreads over entire abdomen and other body areas in patches. These patches then become dark green, then purple and then dark blue. And finally, these patches join together and the whole body appears dark blue, which is also known as 'marbling' of body.

In people who have died from drowning, the greenish coloration starts on the face, progresses toward the chest area, and then to other parts, due to the position that drowned bodies assume in water.

These same bacteria also cause formation of foul smelling gases simultaneously, mainly hydrogen sulphide, which can even be ignited to burn with a blue flame. These gases accumulate in the tissues causing their swelling, bloating and distortion. This means that after two to three days, if left unattended, even a thin body appears obese.

And if abdomen is opened or punctured, these gases escape with a loud explosive noise.

Other features that are seen:

  • Massive swelling of reproductive organs.
  • Eyes bulge from their sockets.
  • Tongue is forced out between swollen lips.
  • Body fluids and excreta may escape.
  • Uterus may prolapse (even post mortem delivery of a fetus may take place).
  • Nails and hair become loose and can be easily pulled out.
  • Teeth may fall out.

The final stages:

After 5 to 10 days, tissues start liquefying.

The abdomen bursts and stomach and intestines protrude out. Every tissue becomes soft, loose and changes into a thick, semi fluid black mass. Finally the cartilage and ligaments soften and part away with the bony joints of the body.

Adipocere formation and mummification are the modifications of putrefaction.

Adipocere formation occurs in bodies immersed in water or in damp, warm environment, whereas,
Mummification of body needs the continuous dry or warmed air and absence of any moisture in the air.

What's common between these two is their medico legal importance.

In both the cases, the features are well preserved and may help to establish the identity.

And these can even help in determining the cause of death and the time since death.

And lastly, skeletonisation of the decomposed body takes place depending upon the scavengers in the environment the body is lying in.

Other Important Facts About Human Decomposition

  • This process of decomposition is arrested below 0 degree and above 48 degree Celsius.
  • It is hastened by air and moisture.
  • Newborns who have not been fed decompose very slowly.
  • Bodies of children putrefy rapidly and of old people slowly.
  • Doesn't depend upon which sex the body is.
  • Fat and flabby Bodies putrefy quickly than lean bodies.
  • Bodies with wounds or with infection or disease before death decompose even quickly.

Casper's dictum says that a body decomposes in air twice as rapidly as in water and eight times as rapidly as in earth.

Hope it was simple enough to understand here what happens to the body after death.

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sheva on February 13, 2015:

How long should the head stay swollen after death from a head injury?

Ashish Joshi (author) from India on October 25, 2012:

thanks spark...m glad u liked the hub.

spark20020 on October 22, 2012:

This is very informative. Thank you for posting this hub up.

Ashish Joshi (author) from India on June 30, 2012:

Thanks for the comment shalini...hope you got to know what terrible things happen to us, even after death!!

Thanks for reading.

shalini sharan from Delhi on June 30, 2012:

i always wondered what hAappened, here is the answer

thank you for sharing this

Ashish Joshi (author) from India on June 26, 2012:


See, the graphics have been taken down!

Anyway, I'm glad you liked it.

Urmila from Rancho Cucamonga,CA, USA on June 17, 2012:

Wow! So scary, graphic but great information. Thanks for sharing it.

Ashish Joshi (author) from India on June 17, 2012:

Thankfully no one would have to, Beth.

I knew the images could be a bit disturbing but then, that's what happens to bodies after death.

Beth J from India on June 17, 2012:

Hi ashish04joshi,

Good heavens! I had no idea all that happens to our body.

And I'm really, really glad I won't be around to witness my own dead body decompose!!


Ashish Joshi (author) from India on June 17, 2012:

Thanks Jo...

yes, it won't have looked the same without those pictures.

Jo_Goldsmith11 on June 17, 2012:

Really interesting information. Kind of graphic on the pictures. They did add to the hub. I voted up because you have explained it so well.

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