Did chronic constipation kill The King? Could a colostomy have been his cure?

Fox News’ Hollie McKay claims that it was Elvis’ constipated colon that caused his last curtain to fall. McKay reports that, according to Elvis Presley’s now-retired personal physician, Dr. “Nick” Nichopoulos, The King’s autopsy revealed that his large intestine was twice the diameter and twice the length of a normal colon. The article speculates that something called “Hershberger’s disease” could have been the underlying cause (This is just a careless mistake because what Dr. Nick is referring to is Hirschsprung’s Disease, an unlikely explanation of Elvis’ constipation because this disease — also known as aganglionic megacolon — is a congenital disease of newborn children who, if untreated with surgery, die within a few weeks).

People seem to be very interested in, even obsessed with, their bowel habits and advertisers take advantage of this. How many radio commercials have you heard about treatments to remove pounds of poop plastered  “on the colon wall like spackle or paste.”  And how many celebrities have you heard about using “cleanses” (sometimes just a nice word for enemas) to address any of a number of health problems caused by “toxins” in the body? In part 2 of this story, we’ll review how solid waste is formed and eliminated and some of the causes and cures for commons causes of constipation.

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

10 Comments

  1. Chance

    September 3, 2012 at 10:34 am

    I was diagnosed with hirschsprungs disease when I was 6 mnths. My mother had to tell the doctor what she thought it was & the doctor told her that disease was to rare so, I almost died as a baby because I was constipated . Anyways with that said i Believe that could still be a factor possibly because I am still battling with my case.

  2. Lori Moul

    November 30, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    What is termed “Hershberger’s Disease” in this article is incorrect and should say “Hirschsprung’s Disease”. It is ENTIRELY possible Elvis could have had undiagnosed ultra-short segment Hirschsprung’s Disease (HD), or acquired HD. Even today, HD diagnosis can be illusive. It is usually babies that die from it, but it can range from mild to severe. I watched Geraldo’s special report “Elvis at 80” to see if this possibility would be brought to light as a sad explanation of his death from self-medicating the pain. Today’s society is hopefully much more empathetic of body parts and functions, and a mature conversation should be had of it. It’s entirely possible that Elvis had this underlaying treatable medical condition, or one that presents the same symptoms, and did not get (or accept) the surgical solution that would have SAVED his life. IF he did have a form of Hirschsprung’s Disease, his family (offspring, succeeding generations – especially infants) should take heed as it can be hereditary and they should be aware of the signs and excellent treatments that are available in the 21st Century.

  3. Natalie

    November 30, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    It is entirely possible he had hirschsprungs. My son was not diagnosed until 6 YEARS old with short segment Hirschsprung’s. It’s is not always fatal if you have ultra short or short segment. If more people were aware of this disease maybe my son would not have gone so long undiagnosed and maybe it would have been the same for Elvis!

    • JudeAnne Gossin

      April 18, 2016 at 1:18 pm

      I had Hirschprung’s since I was a baby; was not diagnosed properly with it until i was fresh out of college at age 23. Thanks a lot to all my doctors when i was a baby. Could not figure out in 1962 that is was Hirschprung’s when the disease was found in 1886.

  4. Joey

    December 27, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    Hirschspung desease isn’t only in infents. It can also acure later in adulthood.

  5. Joey

    December 27, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    And by the way Elvis DID have it.. He was haveing many problems passing stool. He had an incredible amount of pain and as he got older it got worse. He even had accidents on stage! He was horrified by his illness and often ignored it thinking it was a sign of being weak. They did not have stron pain killers like today that’s why he was taking so many medications. He had explosive diarea and was terrified it would happen on stage so he took meds to fix that. His colen was close to 6 inch around, and 9 feet in length, that’s why he got bloated. When they took it out after his death and opened it, it was full of stuff that had not been passed for at least a mouth and some white chalky stuff as well.

  6. Joey

    December 27, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    And by the way it was NOTnhis large intestence, it was his colen that was so lage in size.

  7. heather

    October 17, 2016 at 1:35 am

    Tsk,tsk, tsk…even Drs. don’t have the facts on Hirschsprung’s disease. It is such a variable disease depending on the amount of colon affected for each individual. This sound every plausible that this is what Elvis may have battled.

  8. Emily

    December 13, 2016 at 12:12 am

    I really don’t think that Elvis had that disease but I know he had allergies especially to codeine and penicillin and that’s what caused his colon to cave in and it killed him from the inside out till his untimely death

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