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How Lisa Marie Presley's weight-loss surgery contributed to her death

Lisa Marie Presley
Posted at 12:57 PM, Jul 14, 2023

Lisa Marie Presley died after developing a small bowel obstruction, a severe complication of bariatric surgery years ago, according to an autopsy report released Thursday.

Experts say these types of complications are a known but rare risk after having weight-loss surgery. Here's what to know:

WHAT HAPPENED TO LISA MARIE PRESLEY?

The 54-year-old singer-songwriter and daughter of Elvis Presley was rushed to a Los Angeles-area hospital on Jan. 12 after being found unresponsive at home and died hours later.

The cause of death was from complications of a small bowel obstruction tied to previous bariatric surgery, the autopsy showed. Portions of Presley's bowel became trapped, or "strangulated," from scar tissue that formed following surgery, and she also had developed a severe buildup of acids in her blood.

WHAT IS BARIATRIC SURGERY? HOW COMMON IS IT?

Bariatric surgeries are operations performed on the stomach or intestines to spur weight loss. They're usually done in cases of moderate or severe obesity when other methods haven't worked.

There are several types of bariatric procedures, including those in which a portion of the stomach is removed or rerouted or when a band is placed around a part of the stomach to make it smaller.

It's not clear from the autopsy report which type of surgery Presley had, though experts said it was not a sleeve gastrectomy, which is the most common procedure.

About 263,000 bariatric surgeries were done in 2021, according to Dr. Marina Kurian, the president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. Only about 1% of people who qualify for the surgery receive it.

HOW RISKY ARE THESE OPERATIONS?

In general, bariatric surgery is "very safe," Kurian said. The risk of major complications is about 4% overall and the risk of death is about 0.1%, according to ASMBS.

"It's safer than gallbladder surgery," Kurian said.

WHAT COMPLICATIONS CAN HAPPEN?

Scar tissue, known as adhesions, can form after surgery or other trauma to the abdomen. That can lead to kinks and blockages in the intestine, said Dr. Thomas Inge, chief surgeon and a bariatric surgery expert at Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago.

In Presley's case, it appeared that "she had a twist of her entire intestine," said Inge, who reviewed the autopsy report.

If that's not quickly fixed, the blockage cuts off the flow of blood to the intestine, causing the bowel to become "strangulated" and creating a cascade of potentially deadly problems. In Presley's case, it led to a toxic build-up of acids in her body and a heart attack, the autopsy report said.

Presley reported abdominal pain and not feeling well the morning of her death, the report said. It's not clear if the pain was new.

Anyone who has had abdominal surgery to seek prompt treatment for pain, Inge said. If diagnosed early, it's possible to treat the problem.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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