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Embalming a body

Embalming a body

Emblaming is the treatment of the dead body with antiseptics and preservatives to prevent putrefaction. By this process proteins are coagulated, tissues are fixed, organs are bleached and hardened and blood is converted into a brownish mass. Embalming produces a chemical stiffening similar to rigor mortis, and normal rigor does not develop.

Embalming a body rigidity is permanent. Decomposition is inhibited for many months, if the injection is made shortly after death, and if done several hours after death, the body will show mixture of bacterial decomposition and mummification, and will disintegrate in a few months.

Embalming a body alters the appearance of the body, tissues and organs, making it difficult to interpret any injury or disease. Embalming completely destroys cyanide, alcohol and many other substances.

Determination of the presence of many of the alkaloids and organic poisons becomes very difficult. The fixation process makes it difficult to extract drugs. Blood grouping cannot be made out. Thrombi and emboli will be dislocated and washed away.


A body weighing 70 kg will require a fluid equivalent of ten litres. About 10% of it will be lost through venous drainage, purging, etc. To be very satisfactory, embalming a body should be done within six hours of death.

Injection Methods: Arterial injection is forcing of fluid in an artery to reach the tissues through the arterioles and capillaries. Diffusion occurs into the cells and tissues for preservation at the capillary level.

(1) Hand/foot pump.

(2) Stirrup pump.

(3) Bulb syringe: This is a variety of manual pump, similar to Higginsons syringe. It consists of a bulb-type rubber syringe and rubber tubing at either end. Valves built into the bulb allow suction on one side and ejection on the other side, when the bulb is squeezed. The needle is attached to the delivery end, and the suction end dips into the fluid container.

(4) Gravity injector: It is the simplest, safest and slowest of the injection methods. The gravity bottle or percolator should hold at least ten litres of fluid. A rubber tubing (preferable to use a transparent plastic tube) with a clamp to control the rate of flow is attached to the mouth of the bottle. A needle is attached to the other end of the tube. The bottle is filled with arterial fluid and raised above the body by a pulley and tackle and fixed at a height. A rise of one metre gives a fluid pressure of 0.6 kg/sq.cm., and two metres about one kg/sq cm. This method takes a longer time and the distribution of fluid is uneven with some areas untouched by the fluid.

(5) Motorised injectors: Fluid from an injection tank is forced into the vascular system using air from a compression tank. The pressure and flow rate are controlled by devices. About ten litres of arterial solution is injected into the vascular system within thirty minutes. The pressure is about 2 kg/sq cm.

Method of Injection

(1) CONTINUOUS AND DRAINAGE: The arterial is given continuously, against vein tube that is kept open throughout injection. The embalming a body time is much shortened. Venous drainage and tissue saturation is poor. This method is least satisfactory.

(2) CONTINUOUS WITH DISRUPTED DRAINAGE: It is made continuously with vein tube closed. The blood in the veins build up a resistance for the arterial flow which helps in the better diffusion of the fluid. Thick blood is discharged when the drain tube is opened. This method is better than the continuous discharge and drainage.

(3) ALTERNATE AND DRAINAGE: The arterial fluid is injected for some time with the drain tube closed. It is stopped when the superficial veins swell, and the drain tube is opened. When the flow of blood from the drain tube stops, it is closed and the injection started. This process is repeated several times till the embalming a body is complete.

N.B.: Sodium borate and sodium citrate should bedissolved in hot water and allowed to cool. Add rest of the components and dilute with water to make up ten litres. Allow to stand for a few hours and filter.

(4) DISCONTINUOUS INJECTION AND DRAINAGE: This consists of repeated arterial injection of small quantities at two hour intervals. The total quantity of fluid is in excess of ordinary injection done at a time. It is continued for three or four times. The venous drain tube which is kept closed is opened a little before and kept open a little after starting another dose of it. This is the best method.


(1) ARTERIAL Embalming a body: The embalmer should wear impervious apron, cap, mask and gloves. Place the body supine on the table. The clothing on the body and surgical dressing if any should be removed and the body washed with an antiseptic soap and warm water. Rigor mortis, if present should be broken by bending, massaging, rotating the head, etc. The nostrils are cleaned and plugged with a wad of cotton soaked in arterial solution. The cheek may be filled out with cotton soaked in arterial solution. The mouth should be closed. The eyelids should be closed. If the eyeball is sunk arterial solution should be injected into the orbit and eyeball. The head should be elevated 8 to 10 cm. and placed on a head rest, and the feet raised to facilitate drainage. The anal orifice should be plugged with cotton wool soaked in cavity fluid. The vagina should be plugged similarly.


The nearer the vessel to the heart, the better the result, especially for drainage. A single-point injection often leaves patches of areas unfixed by the embalming a body fluid. Multiple sites of injection may be required in cases of traumatic death, autopsied cases and postmortem mutilations.

The ‘six- point’ involves right and left common carotid arteries for the head and neck, right and left axillary arteries for the upper limbs and the right and left femoral arteries for the lower limbs. The trunk may be injected sending the fluid through these arteries towards the heart.

On completion of it, the vessels should be ligated to prevent leakage of embalming a body fluid. Each side of the face should be separately injected through the common carotid artery of the side to ensure equal distribution of the fluid and to prevent distortion of the face due to over-injection. After injection of one artery, it should be ligated before injecting into other artery.

The desired arteries and veins are dissected and raised to the surface. The vessels are cannulated with suitable tubes. It is better to drain one vessel from each of the high and low drainage points. Discontinuous method of injection with small quantities (about one to two litres) of arterial fluid, followed by drainage is the best method.

The particular limb in relation to the artery exposed should be embalmed first and the artery is tied off. The vein is left open till the end. Mechanical is better than the gravity injector or manual pumps. The drainage tubes should be left in place, till the cavity treatment is over. All drainage points should be ligated after completion to prevent a leak.

CAVITY Embalming a body

(1) CLOSED CAVITY TREATMENT: If possible, cavity treatment should be done after half to one hour, which will allow for the hardening of the viscera, and facilitate piercing of the gut. A motorized aspirator if available is better. A 30 cm. long trocar is inserted into the abdomen through a small incision, about 5 to 6 cm above the umbilicus in the midline. The trocar is first directed upwards, backwards and to the left to pierce and aspirate the stomach. Then the trocar is slightly withdrawn and pushed up towards the right to pierce the right side of the heart.

Next the right and left pleural sacs are reached by piercing the diaphragm and aspirated. Next several punctures are made in the small intestine, caecum and colon to suck out the contents. The urinary bladder, sigmoid colon and rectum should be aspirated. Next, one litre of cavity fluid should be injected distributing it evenly throughout the cavities. The following fluid is recommended.

Formalin 60%

Methanol (preservative) 25%

Liquefied phenol (germicide) 10%

Sodium lauryl sulphate 1%

Mercuric chloride 1%

Eucalyptus oil 1%

POST Embalming a body DRAINAGE

Much of the un-drained blood stagnates in the large vessels of the trunk. This should be removed by aspiration during cavity treatment.

If the body has to be transported to a distant place, it should be securely covered and fixed with an impermeable protective cover. To absorb unexpected leakage and discharges from the body, it should be covered with sawdust.

An embalmed body if left uncared will ultimately turn into a mummy due to dehydration. It will be shriveled to skin and bones.

(2) Mummification.

(3) Adipocere formation.

(4) Freezing: If the body is frozen soon after death and kept in that state, it will be preserved for decades. If it is later exposed to warm temperature, more advanced putrefaction is usually seen on the outer body surface than internally.

(5) Bodies which have been in water or soil containing antiseptic substances, sometimes become impregnated with these material and do not decompose.

(6) By injection of solution of arsenic, lead sulphide and potassium carbonate into the femoral artery or into the aorta, bodies are preserved for the purpose of dissection.

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