Is Natural Death Normally Painful?

Published March 12, 2020
Family at deathbed

Natural death is defined by passing away due to old age or an internal medical condition versus dying by accident or violent incident. Many people don't experience any pain whatsoever during the dying process, while others may experience pain on a range from mild to intense.

Why Some Experience Pain

Some people experience pain during the dying process due to a specific illness or condition. While not everyone will experience the extent of pain in the same way, there are some illnesses that have the potential to be more painful during the dying process. Illnesses that tend to be associated with more pain include:

  • HIV (late stage)
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
  • Cerebral vascular disease
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Dementia

Pain Management

Pain management may be a choice that you or a loved one decides on due to the extent of pain an illness leads to. Hospice offers several options when it comes to pain management with the goal to increase the patient's quality of life. Managing pain appropriately can make the final weeks or months of a patient's life feel more comfortable and provide the patient with the ability to move through the dying process without feeling severe amounts of pain and discomfort. Signs of an individual being in pain include:

  • Mood change
  • Appearance of discomfort
  • Agitation, thrashing, and tensed body
  • Crying out
  • Not allowing a certain area to be touched due to tenderness

Why Pain Is Feared?

Fearing pain is a natural part of the human condition. From the earliest age, the majority of individuals automatically know that if something feels painful or could potentially be painful, it's best to move away from it versus towards it. An interesting study of individuals in the dying process illustrated that during this process, pain was one of the lowest concerns amongst patients with losing independence as the top concern. This could mean that the fear of pain may be a more prominent issue before the dying process begins and concerns may shift once the process has begun.

Doctors consulting with patient

Preparing for the Dying Process

Whether you or a loved one is going through the dying process, it can be helpful to better understand what may transpire so you can feel as prepared as possible. Dying is a natural part of being a living being, but it can bring up complicated and intense emotional responses. If you or a loved one is in the midst of passing away and you feel overwhelmed, it can be super helpful to reach out for support. If you are working with a specific hospice facility, they may be able to recommend counselors that can help with processing end of life related issues. If not, there are plenty of therapists and counselors who specialize in end-of-life related support.

What Does Dying Look Like?

While everyone will experience their own unique process, there are a few aspects of the active dying process that many individuals may go through. This includes:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Decreased need and desire for fluids
  • Inability to speak
  • Loss of vision
  • Loss of hearing
  • Inability to feel touch
  • Death rattle

While not everyone will experience these losses, this tends to be the order in which the senses tend to shut down. Some individuals may also become unconscious and pass away under these conditions. Others may experience the death rattle before passing, which may feel upsetting to watch, but is not thought to cause any pain to the person experiencing it.

Understanding the Relationship Between Pain and Dying

Pain may or may not be part of the dying process. Preparing yourself for your own unique dying process, or your loved one's dying process can help you find appropriate support and potentially plan for pain management for end-of-life care. Taking time to understand the dying process may help decrease anxiety or feelings of fear around this topic.

Is Natural Death Normally Painful?