Consciousness May Occur After Heart, Brain Flatline

Brain signals support idea of near-death experiences amid cardiac arrest: study
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 15, 2023 9:25 AM CDT
Consciousness May Occur After Heart, Brain Flatline
This photo shows an electroencephalogram (EEG) reading during a brain study.   (Getty Images/gorodenkoff)

Their hearts and brains had flatlined. Yet as doctors tried to revive their "technically dead" patients, some of those patients were aware of what was going on. One patient recalled people placing electrodes on their chest and feeling the subsequent shock, per the National Post. Others "were able to report what doctors were doing to them in a 360-degree way," Dr. Sam Parnia, an intensive care physician, tells CNN. Their accounts are included in a new study on near-death experiences, which Parnia and his team tout as the "first report of biomarkers of consciousness during CPR." Trained personnel in 25 hospitals in the US, UK, and Bulgaria attached devices used to measure oxygen and electrical activity in the brain to a dying person's head while doctors administered CPR for up to an hour.

"Nobody's ever done this before, but our independent research teams were successful in carrying out the procedures without interfering in the medical care of patients," says Parnia, senior author of the study published Thursday in the journal Resuscitation. "Interestingly, even up to an hour into the resuscitation, we saw spikes" in gamma, delta, theta, alpha, and beta waves—in other words, "the emergence of brain electrical activity, the same as I have when talking or deeply concentrating," says Parnia. He concludes these are markers of "lucid, recalled experiences of death," widely reported to include a separation from the body, a recognition of death, a sense of continued consciousness, a review of one's life, and a sense of "going home" only to be returned to their body, per Scientific American. Critics aren't so sure.

Only 53 of 567 patients survived to be discharged from the hospital and just 28 were fit enough to be interviewed, per the Post. Of those, 11 reported being aware during CPR and six reported having a near-death experience. None of those six registered brain activity during resuscitation, which critics see as a failure to link brain activity with conscious activity. But "absence of record doesn't mean there's an absence of consciousness," says Parnia. "Of those that did live and had readable electroencephalograms, 40% of them showed that their brain waves went from flatline to showing normal signs of lucidity" indicating "electrical signals are not being produced as a trick of a dying brain." He also polled 126 cardiac arrest survivors, finding 40% had awareness of the event and 20% had a recalled experience of death. (More near-death experience stories.)

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