WEEK THREE: Rigor, Livor, and Algor Mortis

Yajaira G -

Hi, y’all!!

Yet again, this week was filled with more learning! In this blog, I will go into a few more things that go into the preparation. This past Monday, 2/26, I got to the office at 7 a.m. There were seven cases for the day. I was able to observe how they do X-rays on the decedents. The X-rays are taken through the body bag before the seal is broken. This is because when the body is received, it is in a sealed body bag. This is done to keep any evidence from the body inside the bag until later when the seals of the bag are broken. The body is photographed inside the bag to note how the decedent looks before an autopsy. The X-rays are then taken in sections, for example, the upper arm and lower arm. This is done to get a good photograph of the specific section to obtain details of it.

There are a few external findings and considerations that they take into account when examining the body. One of them is rigor mortis, which is the stiffening of the body’s muscles due to chemical changes that occur postmortem. Rigor mortis can help with estimating the time of death as well as the position of the body at the time of death. Here are some of the time estimations: 1–2 hours after death, the rigor will begin; 8–12 hours after death, it will be in full rigor; 24–48 hours after death, muscle tissues will begin to decompose, causing the muscles to become limp again. However, because of certain external factors, these times may vary. For example, if there are high temperatures surrounding the body, the rigor mortis process will happen faster; conversely, lower temperatures will cause rigor mortis to set in slower. Some other factors that can speed up or slow down rigor mortis include the weight of the body, the body’s clothing (or lack thereof), the level of physical activity at the time of death, and sun exposure.

Another external finding that they take into consideration is livor mortis also referred to as lividity which is the pooling of the blood in the lower areas of the postmortem body due to gravity causing discoloration of the skin. From this, they can also determine an estimation of the time of death as well as the position of the body. The areas with darker lividity, show that there was less contact with a surface which causes it to be a darker purplish color. In the areas with lighter lividity, there would have been tighter contact with a surface causing lighter discoloration. To have an estimation of the time of death, what they will do is add pressure to the areas with lividity. When added pressure there will be blanching or whitish discoloration which occurs up to 8-12 hours after death, but after this time the blood becomes fixed which will cause less blanching when pressure is added. Algor mortis is another consideration they take in estimating the time of death. Algor mortis is the cooling of the body temperature. After 12 hours of death an approximation of 0.78℃ each hour after the first, this occurs until the body reaches room temperature.

X-ray room
Here is what the X-ray room looks like!


Next week I will go more in-depth over what they look for during an exam.

Thanks for reading!!!

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    I look forward to reading your blog every week. I feel like I am always learning something new and it is all so fascinating! Sounds like you are learning a lot. Can't wait to see what this week has in store for you.
    Yay Yajaira! I was wondering... what are the requirements in place to be recognized as a sealed bag... is there a sticker or a label of some sort?
    This is so cool! Are x-rays taken at the medical examiner's office, or is there a different place they go to?
    Hi Yajaira! Who knew there were so many things that go into preparation, Have you been able to see examples of Rigor, Liver, or Algor mortis yet? :)
    Wow, that sounds so amazing that you got to experience that! How would you account for the environmental factors when trying to determine time of death. Like how would you know the temperature outside or if the body bag was somewhere cold so it affects the time rigor begins?
    Toby Chang
    Interesting content as usual this week!! Fascinating how gravity and being in that position for so long can cause discoloration. Looking forward to hearing more!
    Yajaira Garcia
    Hi Lena! There are these serial numbered plastic ID tags. These will go through the zippers of the body bag they are kind of like a ziptie. On these, there will be a number that is later used to identify the decedent.
    Yajaira Garcia
    Hi Sofia! The X-rays are taken at the medical examiner's office.
    Yajaira Garcia
    Hi Selene! Yes, I have. The doctors always check how strong the Rigor Mortis is before they begin the examination as well as the lividity and write it down on the report.

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