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Lazarus syndrome: Why some people wake up after being pronounced dead

Imagine being pronounced dead only to wake up in a cold, dark morgue.

Lazarus effect

It sounds like a scene from a horror movie, but for some people, this terrifying experience is a reality.

Known as the "Lazarus effect," named after the biblical figure who was resurrected, this phenomenon occurs when a person who appears to be dead spontaneously returns to life. But how does this happen?

The Lazarus effect, or Lazarus syndrome, is extremely rare and still not fully understood by the medical community. It typically occurs shortly after attempts at resuscitation have ceased.

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One leading theory suggests that a delayed return of circulation could be responsible. After cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) stops, the pressure built up in the chest might slowly release, allowing the heart to start beating again.

Several factors might contribute to this baffling phenomenon:

  • Resuscitation drugs: Medications used during CPR can have delayed effects. Drugs like adrenaline might take some time to influence heart rhythms and blood pressure, potentially causing a delayed restart of the heart.
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  • Auto-PEEP: Positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) can accumulate in the lungs, maintaining some degree of oxygenation even after CPR stops. This can lead to a delayed recovery of spontaneous breathing and circulation.
  • Medical errors: In some cases, premature declarations of death due to medical errors or misinterpretation of vital signs might lead to mistaken diagnoses.

There have been documented instances of the Lazarus effect worldwide. One notable case involved a 76-year-old Ecuadorean woman who was declared dead after suffering from a suspected stroke and woke up while being laid to rest.

While the Lazarus effect remains a medical enigma, it serves as a reminder of the complexities of the human body and the mysteries still surrounding life and death. For now, it continues to be a rare, fascinating, and sometimes frightening occurrence in medical history.

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