The Lazarus Effect: Coming Back to Life

Only 100 to 200 cases of the Lazarus effect have been documented and most of them have ended with the death of the person.
The Lazarus Effect: Coming Back to Life
Leonardo Biolatto

Written and verified by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Last update: 03 June, 2022

The Lazarus effect is an infrequent and truly amazing phenomenon that has appeared in series, movies and, even books. It is also known as Lazarus syndrome or self-resuscitation.

This effect consists of the ‘resuscitation’ of a person after the attempt at cardiopulmonary resuscitation has failed. That is, a person who’s died, and who’s been unsuccessfully resuscitated, after a while, comes back to life.

The Lazarus effect is so rare that it’s always been considered a myth or fiction. However, today there are many documented and investigated cases. In this article, we’ll explain what it’s all about.

Where does the Lazarus effect come from?

The name of the Lazarus effect comes from the Christian religion. The New Testament of the Bible tells the story of Lazarus, a friend of Jesus Christ. Lazarus was sick and died, but, according to the episode, Jesus managed to raise him from the dead.

This story contains the famous phrase “Lazarus, come forth”. This effect has been used throughout history in literature. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that real research and documentation of actual cases began.

The Lazarus effect bore this name until a physician in Wales described it in 1982 as self-resuscitation. This man began to investigate it and discovered that there were 38 documented cases of this occurrence.

What had happened in most cases was that the patients came back to life after about 7-8 minutes after the resuscitation attempt had stopped. However, there were other cases where the ‘dying’ time had been more than half an hour.

A woman performing chest compressions on a man's chest.

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What is the Lazarus effect?

As we’ve already mentioned, the Lazarus effect is actually a medical phenomenon called self-resuscitation. According to medicine, it consists of the reactivation of the brain after some time has passed since the attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

All the cases that have been reported on the subject have this in common: All of the patients had undergone CPR. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation consists of making chest compressions and blowing air into a person who has suffered cardiac arrest.

The truth is that scientists still don’t know why this effect occurs. One hypothesis is that the heart stops beating because there’s too much pressure built up in the thorax. The idea is that, after stopping resuscitation, this pressure releases and the heart reactivates.

Another hypothesis has to do with the amount of potassium in the blood, which decreases after death and allows the heart to function again. The reality is that most people who experience the Lazarus effect die definitively a short time after or have brain damage.

A dummy for learning CPR.

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What do they mean by the Lazarus sign?

The latest research explains that the Lazarus sign is a motor response of the muscles after brain death. Brain death is when the central nervous system irreversibly loses its functions.

In the case of brain death, the person has no reflexes and is in apnea. However, on some occasions, there are people in this state who present spontaneous muscular contractions.

These contractions are what we call the Lazarus sign. In reality, the Lazarus sign causes great confusion to physicians and family members. Facing death is a complicated situation and, when this happens, there’s a tendency to think that there’s hope.

What we must remember is that the Lazarus effect is very rare. Moreover, as we mentioned earlier, most people who’ve experienced it have died shortly thereafter.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.