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A Prospective Analysis of Near-Death Experiences in Cardiac Arrest Patients

Abstract

The objective of this study was to assess prospectively the frequency of near-death experiences (NDEs) in patients suffering a cardiac arrest, to characterize these experiences, and to assess their impact on psychosocial and spiritual attitudes. We prospectively evaluated all patients who suffered a cardiac arrest at Barnes-Jewish Hospital from April 1991 through February 1994, excluding those in the surgical intensive care unit, using a scale designed to specify criteria for NDEs, a recorded interview regarding the experience, an experience rating form, and a follow-up questionnaire regarding psychosocial attitudinal life changes. Of the 174 patients who suffered a cardiac arrest, 55 patients survived, of whom 30 patients were interviewable. Of those 30 patients interviewed, seven (23 percent) had a NDE, and four others (13 percent) reported an NDE during a prior life-threatening illness. The experiences were most frequently characterized by ineffability, peacefulness, painlessness, lack of fear, detachment from the body, and no sense of time or space. Significant differences were noted in the follow-up psychosocial assessment between patients who experienced an NDE and those who did not with regard to personal understanding of life and self, attitudes toward others, and changes in social customs and religious/spiritual beliefs. Of importance, patients reported it was beneficial to receive psychosocial support before hospital discharge after having an NDE. The results suggest that NDEs are fairly common in cardiac arrest survivors. The experiences consisted of a number of core characteristics and changed psychological, social, and spiritual awareness over both the short and long term.

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Correspondence to Janet Schwaninger.

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Schwaninger, J., Eisenberg, P.R., Schechtman, K.B. et al. A Prospective Analysis of Near-Death Experiences in Cardiac Arrest Patients. Journal of Near-Death Studies 20, 215–232 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1015258818660

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1015258818660

  • prospective study
  • cardiac arrest survivors
  • near-death experiences
  • life changes
  • psychosocial support