Livor Mortis: Definition & Significance

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  • 0:03 Stages of Decomposition
  • 0:59 What Is Livor Mortis?
  • 2:21 Things that Affect…
  • 3:52 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

There are several stages in the decomposition of a dead body. Each stage helps medical examiners to assess the time of death. This lesson discusses the meaning of livor mortis and why knowing about it is important.

Stages of Decomposition

When one is assessing time of death, there are three stages of decomposition to look for. Each stage shows different traits in the body, which allows for better judgments about when a person died. The three stages are:

  • Livor Mortis - Livor mortis (which we'll examine in more in depth in this lesson) means ''color of death''. This refers to the beginning stage of decomposition where blood pools in the lower extremities.

  • Algor Mortis - This stage means ''coldness of death'' and refers to the temperature that can be taken to determine time of death up until the body matches the ambient temperature of the room.

  • Rigor Mortis - This means ''stiffness of death'' and refers to how the muscles will contract and tighten for 24-48 hours after death.

Each stage has different external stimuli that can affect the standard look of a body during that stage, as well as internal and physical issues which we'll discuss next.

What Is Livor Mortis?

Hypostasis, or livor mortis_, is the stage where the heart stops pumping blood through the system. As a result, blood starts to leave the extremities and pools at the lowest point of the body. Another name for this is postmortem stain. For example, a body that is hanging in the air by the neck will have blood pooled in the legs and feet, as well as in the earlobes and finger tips, since the blood cannot migrate up past those extremities. A body lying on its back will have blood pooled in the back and buttocks. The rest of the body gets a very pale hue, showing that blood is no longer present.

The areas where the blood pools look like large bruises of red and purple. This is called lividity, and it will start showing on a dead body within a few hours of death. This coloration is used to assess the time of death. In general terms, during the first couple of hours the bruises will look spotted and have a bluish tinge. In 3-6 hours after death, if you press on the colored areas, they should turn pale as the blood moves, and the blood will still be mostly warm. After 12 hours, pressing on the blood-pooled areas will elicit no changes in color.

Why is livor mortis helpful? It not only helps with judging the time of death for a body, it also assists in determining if the body died where it was found, what position it was in, and whether it was moved. The color of the blood can also show that a person was poisoned or asphyxiated.

Things that Affect Livor Mortis

Both external and internal factors can affect livor mortis, making it more challenging to determine the time of death. These factors include:

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