Clinical Death and Biological Death: They're Not Quite the Same

Clinical death is simply when a casualty has stopped breathing. This results in oxygen not entering the body which eventually results in death of body tissues and cardiac arrest.

There are many causes of clinical death such as suffocation, asphyxiation, drowning, injuries, poisoning, and anaphylaxis.

Biological death is much more severe. It is when brain cells die because of lack of oxygen (hypoxia). Biological death follows clinical death. As such, responding to clinical death early enough and performing proper rescue techniques render the best chance of preventing biological death from taking place. Of course, getting advanced medical help as quickly as possible is also important.

Brain Damage Timeline

  • Within 4-6 minutes of clinical death, some brain damage is possible.
  • Within 6-10 minutes of clinical death, brain damage is likely.
  • After 10 minutes of clinical death, irreversible brain damage is certain.

Under special circumstances, such as severe hypothermia, biological death may be delayed.

Never assume someone is beyond help. Never stop your rescue attempts until paramedics arrive and they tell you to stop. Pronouncing someone dead can only be done by a medical doctor or coroner.

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