Why do they weigh the organs during an autopsy?

I am reposting this thread with corrected spelling in the title in the hopes that it will now be more attractive to answer. :cool: (my first use of smiley face ever - I’m going to hell now)
I’m reading a book about the Nicole Simpson murder. In this case, the murder was clearly caused by an attack to the throat severing several major arteries.
The autopsy took several hours during which autopsy the organs were removed, weighed then returned to the body. They also looked for signs of chemicals in the system by taking samples. Perhaps Ms. Simpson was drugged beforehand.
Are all autopsies performed in the same manner despite cause of death? What would cause organs to weigh different amounts? Wouldn’t they differ as the size of the individual differs? In this case, Ms. Simpson had lost almost all her blood. Her organs would weigh less as a result. What other info could be obtained by weighing organs?

I do not have an answer for you. I just wanted to be the first to put out an all-points bulletin for gabriela.

Oh, gabriela!

Well, pending Gabriela’s appearance, I’ll offer a few comments.

The weight of certain organs at post mortem exam can give a clue to (disease) processes that were present before death. So, for example, lungs that weigh more than normal suggest heart failure (the lungs are congested with fluid) or perhaps bilateral pneumonia. If only one lung is heavier than normal, it may indicate that that particular lung was the site of pneumonia.

If the heart weighs more than expected, it may be a clue that it’s had to grow in order to deal with an increased demand or work, e.g. high blood presssure, certain heart valve problems.

If the kidneys weigh less than normal, it suggests there was a longstanding process affecting the kidneys and not something more sudden or acute. Heavy kidneys may represent an acute nephritis (kidney inflammation or infection).

If the brain is heavy, it may be because it was swollen and made heavier with extra water (cerebral edema). Conversely, a brain that weighs less, suggests longstanding or old problems such as previous strokes. In a child, a light brain may be a clue to a number of congenital/developmental problems (none of which I can remember anymore!).

A heavy liver may indicate heart failure (!). That is, if the heart fails to pump the blood well enough, it can accumulate in organs such as the liver. (You’ve probably see people with swollen ankles - that may be the same phenomenon, with fluid pooling due to ineffective heart pumping.)

And now, you’ll have to wait for Gabriela.

Don’t repost a thread. Just notify a moderator and we’ll be glad to correct your spelling.

samclem GQ moderator

So the medical examiner can say, “This man must have been kind, because he had such a big heart!” or “With such a tiny brain, he must have been very dumb!” or “Given her large pancreas, she must have really … enjoyed secreting chymotrypsinogen!”

And I think we’ve all had to deal with people who like to secrete chymotrypsinogen.

They make me quite bilious.

Adding to the questions for gabriela, Are the variations in organ size so small and the effects of various diseses so large that such a thing can be detected reliably? Is there a model used to estimate organ weight? What is it based on? height? weight?

Indeed. Weighing organs detects only the grossest abnormalities and misses a lot. On the other hand, if an organ is so grossly heavy (or light) that it’s apparent by something as coarse as weighing it, it does suggest that something’s amiss (as per my previous post).

Still, I would say that to a very large extent, the practice of weighing organs at autopsy is mostly just one of tradition. Modern diagnostic and histopathologic techniques (i.e. studying disease in cells and tissues) are infinitely more sensitive than something as crude as gross weight.

I can’t be specific except to note that average weights (and the usual ranges around the means) are well established. And, yes, things like gender and general body size/weight are taken into account in interpreting those numbers.

That is interesting. I could see thoroughly examining the wounds to determine weapon type, etc., but yeah, why the rest of it?

To add to what Karl Gauss said - Undersized/shrunken organs also have medical significance, as they may reflect congential anomalies or conditions developing during the person’s life, which have significance for their medical condition. For instance, an autopsy I did recently turned up an apparently previously unsuspected atrophic right kidney. The major artery feeding that kidney was stenotic (narrowed), causing the atrophic changes and quite possibly causing or contributing to her high blood pressure.

Obviously findings relating to organ weights (or other abnormalities) don’t have much relevance to someone’s fatal injuries in a stabbing. It may be important in some cases, though, to rule out other conditions which may have contributed to a person’s death, or to find conditions that have implications for the health of surviving family members. Organ weights are a rather crude tool, but they can serve as pointers to more specific problems.

By the way, loss of blood will not significantly affect weights of organs, which do not store large enough amounts of blood to make a difference. The spleen might be one partial exception, especially if it’s enlarged.

Standard tables for organ weights exist, and numbers for them are likely derived from data obtained from large numbers of autopsies.

Jackmannii, pathologist.

Well if she was dead before being stabbed in the throat it wouldn’t have been murder. The defendent could try to claimed they stabbed a dead body.
Still doesn’t seem likely or make much sense to me.