Postmortem caloricity

Postmortem caloricity is a phenomenon where the body temperature of a corpse rises or remains unusually high for up to 2 hours after death instead of falling.


Postmortem caloricity may (more frequently) be observed in deaths resulting from asphyxia, poisonings (e.g. with datura, alcohol, strychnine), sepsis, bacteraemia, and infectious diseases (yellow fever,[1] rabies, rheumatic fever, cholera, tetanus, smallpox), meningitis, peritonitis, nephritis, brain stem haemorrhages (especially pontine haemorrhages), intracranial injuries, liver abscesses, sunstroke, etc.


Postmortem heat production is caused by biochemical and microbial activity in the dead body. The cause of postmortem caloricity varies depending on the cause of death:

  • Postmortem glycogenolysis – a phenomenon beginning soon after death observed in nearly all cadavers. In an average adult, postmortem glycogenolysis can produce up to 140 calories of heat which can raise the temperature of the body by up to 2 °C.
  • Bactaeremia, sepsis, and infectious causes – heat production may be attributed to postmortem microbial activity.
  • Sunstroke, and pontine haemorrhages – disruption of thermoregulation prior to death.
  • Tetanus, and strychnine – heat is produced by muscular contractions.

The corpse may also absorb heat from the environment when environmental temperature exceeds that of the body.


  1. "Post-Mortem Caloricity of Yellow Fever". The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal. 33 (1): 14–17. 1845-08-06. doi:10.1056/nejm184508060330104. ISSN 0096-6762.


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