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Health Library : Pathology

 

Autopsy

What is an autopsy?

An autopsy is a medical examination of a body after death. Autopsies are done to determine cause of death or to verify diagnosis.

When is an autopsy performed?

There are two major types of autopsy:

  • Deaths that are unnatural or unexpected and unexplained can fall under the jurisdiction of the coroner or medical examiner. These are called medicolegal cases, and would include deaths that relate to public health concerns, such as a mysterious disease.
  • An autopsy is sometimes performed in a natural death where a particular question about a disease process or medical procedure is investigated. These types of autopsies may be requested by the family and/or physician, and must be authorized by the decedent's next-of-kin.

Who performs the autopsy?

Autopsies are performed by pathologists, who are licensed physicians. They may be authorized by the county coroner or the decedent's next-of-kin.

How is an autopsy performed?

Autopsy procedure begins with the general and ends with the specific:

  • First, a visual examination of the entire body is done, including the organs and internal structures.
  • Then, microscopic, chemical, and microbiological examinations may be made of the organs, tissues and fluids.
  • Organs removed for examination are weighed and examined. Pertinent tissues are further studied under the microscope.
  • A final report is made after all laboratory results are complete.

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