Beethoven's autopsy revisited: A pathologist sounds a final note

J Med Biogr. 2017 Aug;25(3):139-147. doi: 10.1177/0967772015575883. Epub 2015 Oct 27.

Abstract

This review of the original autopsy report of Beethoven's remains indicates Paget's disease within the skull, which was dense and twice normal thickness, with dilated vessels at the petrous bone. The facial nerves were enlarged and the eighth nerves atrophied despite their sharing a common meatus at the internal auditory canal. Nephrolithiasis and pyelonephritis with cortical and perinephric abscesses were also reported. The hypercalcaemia was probably caused by hyperparathyroidism, which may be associated with Paget's disease, and both may have played a role in his psychiatric symptoms as well as in his abdominal pain and gastrointestinal complaints. Since Paget's disease may also be associated with gout, some of the joint pains could be attributable to this as well. Hypovitaminosis A from chronic pancreatitis is suggested as a cause of painful eyes and either quinine abuse or severe hypercalcaemia as a cause of arrhythmias. Beethoven died of terminal cirrhosis with chronic pancreatitis, most likely related to chronic excessive intake of alcohol. Thus, Paget's disease, complicated by hyperparathyroidism, gout, and attempts to find relief of symptoms through the use of alcohol, quinine, and possibly salicylates can explain virtually all of Beethoven's medical problems, some of which appear to have influenced his musical compositions.

Keywords: Beethoven; Music; Paget’s disease pancreatitis; cirrhosis; deafness; hyperparathyroidism; nephrolithiasis; osteitis-deformans.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Autopsy*
  • Deafness
  • Famous Persons*
  • History, 18th Century
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Alcoholic*
  • Music
  • Osteitis Deformans
  • Pancreatitis*
  • Pathologists

Personal name as subject

  • Ludwig van Beethoven