Heavy D’s Cause of Death Revealed

We were all shocked by the unexpected death of legendary rapper Heavy D (born Dwight Myers) last month. The 44-year old collapsed shorted after arriving home from a shopping trip. The singer had complained of shortness of breath just prior to his collapse.

We now know what caused his death. The LA Coroner’s office reports that Myers died of natural causes as a result of a pulmonary embolus. The embolus came from a blood clot in the singer’s leg, a condition known as deep vein thrombosis.

TMZ is reporting that Heavy D had recently taken a long plane flight from London to LA, where he had performed at the Michael Jackson memorial concert. This prolonged period of inactivity could contribute to the formation of blood clots in the legs.

What is a pulmonary embolus?

A pulmonary embolism, or PE, is a sudden blockage in a lung artery. The blockage usually is due to a blood clot that traveled to the lung from a vein in the leg. A clot that forms in one part of the body and travels in the bloodstream to another part of the body is called an embolus.

PE is a serious condition that can cause:

  • Permanent damage to part of the lung from lack of blood flow to lung tissue
  • Low oxygen levels in the blood
  • Damage to other organs in the body from not getting enough oxygen

If a blood clot is large, or if there are many clots, PE can cause death.

Overview

In most cases, PE is a complication of a condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

In DVT, blood clots form in the deep veins of the body-most often in the legs. These clots can break free, travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, and block an artery.

Who is at risk for a pulmonary embolus?

Pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs equally in men and women. Although risk increases with age, other factors can also increase risk, such as:

  • Recent surgery
  • Long periods of immobility (such as bed rest because of an illness, long plane flights)
  • Cancer
  • Heart problems
  • Taking oral contraceptives
  • Previous stroke or heart attack

Treatment

Pulmonary embolism (PE) is treated with medicines, procedures, and other therapies. The main goals of treating PE are to stop the blood clot from getting bigger and keep new clots from forming.
Treatment may include medicines to thin the blood and slow its ability to clot. If symptoms are life threatening, a doctor may use a medicine, such as TPA, to dissolve the clot more quickly. Rarely, physicians may use surgery or another procedure to remove the clot.

Outlook

At least 100,000 cases of PE occur each year in the United States. PE is the third most common cause of death in hospitalized patients. If left untreated, about 30 percent of patients who have PE will die. Most of those who die do so within the first few hours of the event.

For more information about pulmonary embolism, click here to go to the Resounding Health Casebook on the topic.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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