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Autopsy

WHAT IS AN AUTOPSY?

An autopsy, also known as a post-mortem examination, is a specialized surgical procedure used to determine the cause and manner of death. The cause of death is the medical reason explaining why a patient passed. The manner of death is the circumstances surrounding the death. It is performed by pathologists, medical doctors who have received specialty training in the diagnosis of diseases by the examination of body fluids and tissues. 

WHY IS AN AUTOPSY DONE?

Autopsies continually advance our understanding of disease. They help Doctors better understand disease processes, accurately diagnose diseases, improve therapy, and potentially help other patients who are currently suffering from a similar disease.  They can be performed for one of the following reasons:  

  1. Medico-Legal Autopsy is performed to find the cause and manner of death and to identify the decedent. They are generally performed, as prescribed by applicable law, in cases of violent, suspicious or sudden deaths, deaths without medical assistance or during surgical procedures.

  2. To aid in criminal investigations of wrongful death

  3. Clinical or Pathological autopsies are performed to find a particular disease or for research purposes. They aim to determine, clarify, or confirm medical diagnoses that remained unknown or unclear prior to the patient's death.

  4. To evaluate the effectiveness of medical or surgical treatment

  5. Anatomical or academic autopsies are performed by students of anatomy for study purposes only.

HOW  IS AN AUTOPSY PERFORMED?

The procedure for performing an autopsy varies according to the extent and purpose of the examination. 

  • Most standard autopsies consist of an examination of the chest cavity, abdominal cavity, and the brain. To examine the organs in the chest and abdomen, the pathologist usually performs a Y- or U-shaped incision beginning at the shoulders that meets at the sternum (breast bone) and continues vertically down to the pubic bone. 

  • Examination of the brain is carried out through an incision made in the back of the skull from one ear to the other.

  • Before any incisions are made, the autopsy begins with a thorough physical examination of the outside of the body that includes determination of height and weight. Any scars, surgical incisions, wounds, or evidence of lesions on the skin are also described.

  • For examination purposes, the organs are usually removed from the body. The pathologist may weigh the organs individually and further dissect (cut) the tissue to look for abnormalities inside the organs. After the organs are viewed with the naked eye, small pieces of tissue are taken from the organs for microscopic examination. The physical and microscopic characteristics of each tissue are carefully described in detail.

  • At the end of an autopsy, the incisions made in the body are closed. The organs may be returned to the body or may be retained for teaching, research, or diagnostic purposes. 

After conclusion of the Autopsy, the pathologist prepares a detailed report. This report describes the observations made during the autopsy procedure and explains the microscopic findings and the results of any special studies that were performed. The report gives a list of medical diagnoses and a summary of the case, emphasizing the correlation between clinical diagnoses and the findings of the autopsy.

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