Joan Rivers Cause of Death Revealed

The cause of comedienne Joan River’s death has been revealed. On Thursday, the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner issued the following statement:

“OCME has completed its investigation. The cause of Ms. Rivers’ death is anoxic encephalopathy due to hypoxic arrest during laryngoscopy and upper gastrointestinal endoscopy with propofol sedation for evaluation of voice changes and gastroesophageal reflux disease. The manner of death is therapeutic complication.

“The classification of a death as a therapeutic complication means that the death resulted from a predictable complication of medical therapy.”

Daughter Melissa Rivers posted on Facebook:

“In response to today’s release of the New York City Medical Examiner’s report, we continue to be saddened by our tragic loss and grateful for the enormous outpouring of love and support from around the world. We have no further comment at this time.”       -Melissa Rivers

Anoxic encephalopathy, also called cerebral hypoxia, means that there has been damage to the brain due to an inadequate supply of oxygen.

What is Cerebral Hypoxia?

Cerebral hypoxia refers to a condition in which there is a decrease of oxygen supply to the brain even though there is adequate blood flow. It can be caused by:

  • Drowning,
  • Strangling,
  • Choking,
  • Suffocation,
  • Cardiac arrest,
  • Head trauma,
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Complications of general anesthesia can create conditions that can lead to cerebral hypoxia.

Symptoms of mild cerebral hypoxia include inattentiveness, poor judgment, memory loss, and a decrease in motor coordination. Brain cells are extremely sensitive to oxygen deprivation and can begin to die within five minutes after oxygen supply has been cut off. When hypoxia lasts for longer periods of time, it can cause coma, seizures, and even brain death.  In brain death, there is no measurable activity in the brain, although cardiovascular function is preserved. Life support is required for respiration.

Is there any treatment?

Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the hypoxia, but basic life-support systems have to be put in place: mechanical ventilation to secure the airway; fluids, blood products, or medications to support blood pressure and heart rate; and medications to suppress seizures.

What is the prognosis?

Recovery depends on how long the brain has been deprived of oxygen and how much brain damage has occurred, although carbon monoxide poisoning can cause brain damage days to weeks after the event. Most people who make a full recovery have only been briefly unconscious. The longer someone is unconscious, the higher the chances of death or brain death and the lower the chances of a meaningful recovery. During recovery, psychological and neurological abnormalities such as amnesia, personality regression, hallucinations, memory loss, and muscle spasms and twitches may appear, persist, and then resolve.

What is hypoxic arrest?

An hypoxic arrest is usually caused by a respiratory or cardiac arrest (either the heart or lungs have stopped functioning), leading to an inadequate amount of oxygen getting to the brain. Although the brain takes up only two percent of our body weight, it consumes 20% of the body’s oxygen supply. Brain injury can therefore occur very quickly if  there is insufficient oxygen being supplied.
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.

1 Comment

  1. Hayley Peoples

    October 23, 2014 at 12:18 am

    The death of any famous person is extremely tragic. So many people look up to them and consider them apart of their lives, so when you have the whole world mourning the death of a celebrity it seems more tragic than the average person dying. Joan Rivers died from a “predictable complication of medical therapy.” This means that any normal person could have died this way. I feel that most celebrity deaths are tragic in the sense that they were preventable. Most celebrity deaths are marred with sadness because they die too young from their celebrity lifestyle and letting drugs and alcohol rule their lives, or the pressure was too much and they take their own lives.
    Joan Rivers death was completely preventable, but also random and by chance. She was so full of life and not afraid to say anything. Even though she was older, everyone considered her so lively, so her death did come as a shock. I really enjoyed that this article is so informative about what the condition she died from was. When celebrities die, people don’t stop to understand how they truly died. Understanding how Joan Rivers died would be important for society to understand because it could happen to any one of us during a routine surgery. Also in the media there has been a lot of talk about her daughter Melissa suing the hospital and the doctor. I feel that people who follow this story are in agreement about Melissa choosing to take legal action, because even though Joan was eighty-one years old, she was on television all the time and constantly working. The impression that knowledge is given society is that her untimely death was caused by the hospital and the doctors. Little does everyone know that this cause of death is a common a predictable risk of surgery. I really appreciate the honesty of this article and instead of focusing on some of the negativity that surrounds her death; it focuses on the truth and hard facts of what happened medically. Celebrity death’s should always be supplemented with the medical information of how they died, especially because society is so fascinated with them.

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