Lisa Marie Presley’s Death Linked to Weight Loss Surgery

Singer Lisa-Marie Presley is seen here in a hat and black top.
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Wonderwall
  • A new report finds that singer Lisa Marie Presley died due to small bowel obstruction.
  • Presley had been experiencing abdominal pain, fevers, vomiting and nausea for months but had not sought out medical attention.
  • Small bowel obstructions are a rare but possible long-term complication of bariatric surgery. 

Lisa Marie Presley died in January from what appeared to be cardiac arrest.

An autopsy report released last week revealed that the singer, who was 54, died from a small bowel obstruction caused by scar tissue that had formed following bariatric surgery many years ago.  

Presley had been experiencing abdominal pain, fevers, vomiting and nausea for months but had not sought out medical attention, according to the report from the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s office.

On January 12th, 2023, she complained of severe abdominal pain. 

Her ex-husband found her unresponsive later that day. Paramedics took Presley to a hospital where she went into cardiac arrest and died. 

According to the medical examiner’s office, small bowel obstructions are a rare but possible long-term complication of bariatric surgery. 

Any kind of abdominal surgery can create adhesions, or scar tissue, in and around the internal organs and bowels, says Dr. Mir Ali, a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA. 

“Most of the time, the scar tissue does not cause a problem, but it can cause a kink, twist or other mechanical issue in the intestine, leading to blockage,” Ali told Healthline. 

Why are small bowel obstructions dangerous?

Dr. John Magaña Morton, division chief of bariatric and minimally invasive surgery at Yale School of Medicine, says the development of small bowel obstructions are not unique to bariatric surgery.  

“Any gastrointestinal surgery from appendectomy to gallbladder removal can lead to bowel obstruction from scar tissue,” Morton said. 

Scar tissue is common after surgery, says Dr. David M Pechman, director of bariatric surgery at Northwell Health’s South Shore University Hospital. 

Scar tissue occurs when thick tissues form where healthy tissues were damaged from surgery, or, for example, an injury. 

Intra-abdominal scar tissue can lead to kinking or twisting of the bowel. When this occurs, there may be a backup of partially-digested food, nausea, vomiting, and pain, says Pechman. 

Left untreated, bowel obstructions can lead to decreased blood pressure, loss of fluids and electrolytes, and an increased inflammatory response — all of which may predispose a person to cardiac arrest, says Morton. 

Tissues in the bowel may die, which can lead to worsening pain, sepsis, and death.

Small bowel obstructions after bariatric surgery

Pechman says patients who’ve had gastric bypass are at risk for an internal hernia. 

“This is the result of a portion of small intestine moving in between other tissues and twisting or getting pinched,” he said. 

As the technologies used to conduct these surgeries have advanced over the years, the risk of developing a hernia after bariatric surgery has dropped. 

These complications were more common 20 years ago when most bariatric procedures were performed through large and open incisions, says Ali. 

That said, health risks like hernias can still happen, says Pechman. 

“In the last year, I’ve taken five patients to the OR [operating room] for this issue; all except one of these patients had their gastric bypass greater than 10 years ago, he said. 

The amount of scar tissue can be reduced with minimally-invasive procedures such as laparoscopic or robotic surgeries.

“We see patients with prior minimally-invasive surgeries who have little or no scar tissue at all,” Pechman said.

How are bowel obstructions treated

According to Morton, it’s important that bowel obstructions are addressed early. 

Patients are advised to seek immediate medical attention if they experience abdominal pain after a gastric bypass.

Early warning signs of complication include abdominal pain, abdominal distention, vomiting, and a lack of bowel movement. 

If a patient gets treated early on, severe and life-threatening complications can be prevented, says Ali. 

“With rapid diagnosis and treatment, the bowel can be saved and the risk of death virtually eliminated,” says Pechman. 

The bottom line:

An autopsy report revealed that Lisa Marie Presley died from a small bowel obstruction caused by scar tissue that had formed following bariatric surgery many years ago. Small bowel obstructions are rare but a possible long-term complication of bariatric surgery. With rapid treatment, serious complications can be prevented, but left untreated, they can lead to severe pain, sepsis, and death.

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