What is an autopsy?
An autopsy is a medical exam of a body after death. Autopsies are done to determine cause of death or to confirm a suspected diagnosis.
Why is an autopsy done?
Autopsies are done for several reasons, including the following:
When a suspicious death occurs
When there's a public health concern, such as a mysterious disease
If someone dies unattended by a doctor, or if the attending doctor is uncomfortable signing the death certificate
The family or legally responsible designee of the deceased person can ask the doctor or authorities for an autopsy
Who does the autopsy?
Autopsies ordered by the state can be done by a county coroner, who is not necessarily a doctor. A medical examiner who does an autopsy is a doctor, usually a pathologist.
How is an autopsy done?
Autopsy procedure begins with the general and ends with the specific:
First, a visual exam of the entire body is done, including the organs and internal structures.
Then, microscopic, chemical, and microbiological exams may be made of the organs, fluids, and tissues.
All organs removed for examination are weighed, and a section is preserved for processing into microscopic slides.
A final report is made after all lab results are complete.
Autopsies may last 2 to 4 hours. The results of lab tests on samples of body fluids and tissues may take a few weeks to be returned.
Last Reviewed Date: 09/22/2014
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.