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What are the signs of death within days or hours?

ANSWER

When death is within days or hours, your loved one may:

You may notice their:

If they're not already unconscious, your loved one may drift in and out. But they probably can still hear and feel.

  • Not want food or drink
  • Stop urinating and having bowel movements
  • Grimace, groan, or scowl from pain
  • Eyes tear or glaze over
  • Pulse and heartbeat are irregular or hard to feel or hear
  • Body temperature drops
  • Skin on their knees, feet, and hands turns a mottled bluish-purple (often in the last 24 hours)
  • Breathing is interrupted by gasping and slows until it stops entirely

SOURCES:

Philip Higgins, MSSW, LICSW, director of palliative care outreach, Adult Palliative Care Service, Dana Farber/Brigham & Women's Cancer Center, Boston.

Ursula Braun, MD, MPH, director, in-patient palliative care unit, Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center Houston; assistant professor of medicine and medical ethics, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston.

Jennifer Clark, MD, professor of palliative medicine, departments of internal medicine and pediatrics, University of Oklahoma College of Community Medicine, Tulsa.

Andrea Holtzer, RN, palliative care nurse coordinator, St. Mary's Hospital, Amsterdam, NY.

Carol Lovci, RN, MSN, VP, long-term care and special services, San Diego Hospice and The Institute of Palliative Medicine, San Diego.

Byock, I. , Riverside Books, 1997. Dying Well

Hospice Foundation of America. , revised, 2007. The Dying Process: A Guide for Caregivers

Karnes, B. , Barbara Karnes Books Inc., 1986. Gone From My Sight: The Dying Experience

Lynn, J. , Oxford University Press, 1999. Handbook for Mortals

Hallenbeck, J. , May 11, 2005. Journal of the American Medical Association

Lynn, J. , Jan. 15, 1997. Annals of Internal Medicine

Morrison, S.R. , June 17, 2004. New England Journal of Medicine

Ohio Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. , 4th ed., 2004. Choices: Living Well at the End of Life

Medical College of Wisconsin: "Diagnosis and Treatment of Terminal Delirium, Factsheet," "Syndrome of Imminent Death."

American Geriatrics Society: "Dying at Home."

Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association: "Final Days."

"Hospice Palliative Care Program Symptom Guidelines: Delirium/Restlessness," Fraser Health, 2006.

Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on July 30, 2018

SOURCES:

Philip Higgins, MSSW, LICSW, director of palliative care outreach, Adult Palliative Care Service, Dana Farber/Brigham & Women's Cancer Center, Boston.

Ursula Braun, MD, MPH, director, in-patient palliative care unit, Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center Houston; assistant professor of medicine and medical ethics, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston.

Jennifer Clark, MD, professor of palliative medicine, departments of internal medicine and pediatrics, University of Oklahoma College of Community Medicine, Tulsa.

Andrea Holtzer, RN, palliative care nurse coordinator, St. Mary's Hospital, Amsterdam, NY.

Carol Lovci, RN, MSN, VP, long-term care and special services, San Diego Hospice and The Institute of Palliative Medicine, San Diego.

Byock, I. , Riverside Books, 1997. Dying Well

Hospice Foundation of America. , revised, 2007. The Dying Process: A Guide for Caregivers

Karnes, B. , Barbara Karnes Books Inc., 1986. Gone From My Sight: The Dying Experience

Lynn, J. , Oxford University Press, 1999. Handbook for Mortals

Hallenbeck, J. , May 11, 2005. Journal of the American Medical Association

Lynn, J. , Jan. 15, 1997. Annals of Internal Medicine

Morrison, S.R. , June 17, 2004. New England Journal of Medicine

Ohio Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. , 4th ed., 2004. Choices: Living Well at the End of Life

Medical College of Wisconsin: "Diagnosis and Treatment of Terminal Delirium, Factsheet," "Syndrome of Imminent Death."

American Geriatrics Society: "Dying at Home."

Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association: "Final Days."

"Hospice Palliative Care Program Symptom Guidelines: Delirium/Restlessness," Fraser Health, 2006.

Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on July 30, 2018

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What should you do in the last days or hours of death of your loved one?

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