If you stop eating and drinking, death can occur as early as a few days, though for most people, approximately ten days is the average. In rare instances, the process can take as long as several weeks.
One study in Archiv Fur Kriminologie concluded that you can’t survive more than 8 to 21 days without food and water. People on their deathbed who are using very little energy may live only a few days or a few weeks without food and water.
While the pre-active stage lasts for about three weeks, the active stage of dying lasts roughly three days. By definition, actively dying patients are very close to death, and exhibit many signs and symptoms of near-death.
Approximately one to three months prior to passing the patient will eat less and finally cease to eat just days before death. In most hospices, when a patient begins to eat less, it is a first sign that the transition phase is really getting underway.
How long can you survive without food before dying? An article in Archiv Fur Kriminologie states the body can survive for 8 to 21 days without food and water and up to two months if there’s access to an adequate water intake. Modern-day hunger strikes have provided insight into starvation.
Signs that the body is actively shutting down are:
End-of-Life Signs: The Final Days and Hours
The brain is the first organ to begin to break down, and other organs follow suit. Living bacteria in the body, particularly in the bowels, play a major role in this decomposition process, or putrefaction.
What happens when someone dies? In time, the heart stops and they stop breathing. Within a few minutes, their brain stops functioning entirely and their skin starts to cool. At this point, they have died.
Five Physical Signs that Death is Nearing
According to one article, those on their deathbeds can survive between 10 and 14 days without food and water. Some longer periods of survival have been noted, but are less common. Keep in mind that people who are bedridden aren’t using much energy. A person who is healthy and mobile would likely perish much sooner.
The stools, or feces, may become hard and difficult to pass (constipation) as your fluid intake decreases and you become weaker. The doctor or hospice palliative care worker should be informed if you do not have a bowel movement at least every 3 days or your bowel movements are uncomfortable.
When someone is no longer taking in any fluid, and if he or she is bedridden (and so needs little fluid) then this person may live as little as a few days or as long as a couple of weeks. In the normal dying process people lose their sense of hunger or thirst.
After three to five days of not drinking water, your organs begin to shut down, especially the brain, which could have lethal consequences including fainting, strokes and in extreme cases, even death.
When a person is just hours from death, you will notice changes in their breathing:
When a person enters the final stages of dying it affects their body and mind. When a person’s body is ready and wanting to stop, but the person is not finished with some important issue, or with some significant relationship, he/she may tend to linger in order to finish whatever needs finishing.