Near Death Experience Explained: Could Electricity Surge In Brain Cause Someone To ‘See The Light’ After Heart Stops?
Scientists may have found the reason people report near death experiences, or "see the light," during the early stage of clinical death. A new study shows that just after clinical death, when the heart stops beating and blood is no longer pumped to the brain, rats' brains show patterns of activity much like that of conscious perception. Could an electrical surge in the brain at the time a person's heart stops explain the near death experience?
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The near-death experience phenomenon is a well-documented occurrence. According to CBS News, 20 percent of people who have survived cardiac arrest say they "saw the light."
"These survivors report having internal visions and heightened perception," CBS reports. "But the scientific reality of the experience has long been debated."
And the idea that electrical surges in the brain could be causing what people commonly refer to as "near death experiences" isn't new either. In 2010, researchers at George Washington University medical center in Washington D.C. noted that terminally-ill patients experienced a brief spike in brain activity in the hour or so before death.
This newest study, however, is the first time researchers have taken a systematic look at the neurophysiological state of the brain as it dies.
Using electroencephalograms, or EEGs, a system of measuring voltage flows within the neurons of the brain, researchers at the University of Michigan studied what happened to rats' brains as they went into cardiac arrest.
They found that the rats showed a widespread surge of brain activity, much like that of a highly aroused brain, within the first 30 seconds after cardiac arrest.
"We were surprised by the high levels of activity," said George Mashour, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of anesthesiology and neurosurgery at the university. "In fact, at near-death, many known electrical signatures of consciousness exceeded levels found in the waking state, suggesting that the brain is capable of well-organized electrical activity during the early stage of clinical death."
In the study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and the James S. McDonnell Foundation, and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says that rats experienced the same electricity in the brain during asphyxiation.
"This study tells us that reduction of oxygen or both oxygen and glucose during cardiac arrest can stimulate brain activity that is characteristic of conscious processing," said Jimo Borjigin, Ph.D., the study's lead author in a press release from the university. "It also provides the first scientific framework for the near-death experiences reported by many cardiac arrest survivors."
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