Brittany Murphy’s manner and cause of death

According to the Los Angeles County coroner, Brittany Murphy suffered an accidental death from pneumonia complicated by iron-deficiency anemia but also “multiple drug intoxication,” or toxic polypharmacy as we’ve previously described.

Pneumonia is an infection in one or both of the lungs. Many small germs, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, can cause pneumonia.The infection causes your lungs’ air sacs, called alveoli, to become inflamed. The air sacs may fill up with fluid or pus, causing symptoms such as a cough (with phlegm), fever, chills, and trouble breathing. Pneumonia can be a complication of upper respiratory infections, such as colds or flu, because the mucus in the airways is an excellent growth medium for germs.


Source: NHLBI

Doctors listening to the chest with a stethoscope may hear a bubbling or crackling sound (called rales) or a harsh rumblings (called rhonchi) if pneumonia is present. Confirmation of the disease is made with an x-ray, which will show an area of increased “whiteness” in the infected area (normal lung tissue is mostly black on x-ray).

pneumonia xray

Symptoms of pneumonia can be mild to severe. Treatment is dependent on the organism causing the pneumonia- viruses can be treated symptomatically or with anti-viral medications, bacteria with antibiotics specific to the organism present. Pneumonia tends to be more serious for:

  • Infants and young children.
  • Older adults (people 65 years or older).
  • People who have other health problems like heart failure, diabetes, or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
  • People who have weak immune systems as a result of diseases or other factors. These may include HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy (a treatment for cancer), or an organ or bone marrow transplant.

Anemia is a condition where the number of red blood cells in the blood is lower than normal. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, which is the molecule which carries oxygen around the body. Therefore, a person with anemia has a lower capacity to carry oxygen to the major organs (especially to the brain and heart). Some prescription and over the counter medications  can  slow a person’s breathing by acting on the breathing control centers in the brain. Pneumonia can also decrease oxygen to vital organs because oxygen doesn’t pass well through the inflamed fluid and pus filled lung tissue.

So, getting back to Brittany Murphy- It seems like she hit the Trifecta- three different processes  all of which decrease oxygen in the blood stream- all potentially treatable- which make’s the young starlet’s death all the more tragic.

For more information:

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.

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