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performed or occurring after death.

Care of the body after death (postmortem care) is an essential component of the total care of the patient and surviving family members and friends. Specific policies and procedures for postmortem care are a matter of agency policy, local customs, and cultural and religious ritual.

Physical care of the body is based on certain changes that take place at a fairly predictable rate, depending on body temperature at the time of death, and environmental temperature once death has taken place. The size of the body and the presence or absence of bacterial infection also influence these changes.

Rigor mortis is the first of these changes after cessation of circulation and respiration. Within two to four hours after death depletion of glycogen stores prevents synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Without ATP the muscle fibers do not relax, resulting in rigid contraction of the fibers and immobilization of the joints. The rigor first occurs in the involuntary muscles and then involves the voluntary musculature, starting with the head and neck and descending gradually to the trunk and lower extremities. The process usually takes about 45 hours and continues for about 96 hours.

Another noticeable change is cooling of the body, which occurs rather rapidly once circulation stops and the heat-regulating center in the brain no longer is functioning. This postmortem loss of body heat is called algor mortis.

Decomposition of the tissues begins almost as soon as blood supply stops. With the breakdown of hemoglobin, discoloration, or livor mortis, appears as mottled, reddened areas that can be mistaken for bruises, particularly in the extremities or other parts of the body where there is pooling of blood. As deterioration of tissues continues and bacterial fermentation occurs, the tissues soften and then liquefy. Refrigeration or some other method of cooling the body inhibits this process.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.

post·mor·tem (PM),

1. Pertaining to or occurring during the period after death.
See also: autopsy (1).
2. Postmortem examination.
See also: autopsy (1).
[post- + L. acc. case of mors (mort-), death]
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


1. Occurring or done after death.
2. Of or relating to a medical examination of a dead body.
1. See autopsy.
2. Informal An analysis or review of a finished event.

post mor′tem adv.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


1. Pertaining to or occurring during the period after death.
2. Colloquialism for autopsy (1).
[post- + L. acc. case of mors (mort-), death]
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


After death.
Mentioned in: Autopsy
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.