Fetor Hepaticus ‘Breath of the Dead’

Fetor Hepaticus (Breath of the Dead)

The term “breath” refers to the lungs which are filled with blood vessels. The word “dead” comes from Latin meaning dead body or corpse. A person’s breath contains all the air they have breathed up until that point in time. If a person dies, their lungs will begin to fill with fluid due to death and this fluid will eventually cause them to become a “breathing corpse”.

In the case of fetor hepaticus, it is a condition where the liver becomes inflamed causing the patient to suffer from severe respiratory problems. In most cases, these patients die within days of suffering from this condition. However, sometimes they live long enough to experience life threatening complications such as heart attacks and strokes. These complications often lead to death.

How does Fetor Hepaticus occur?

It is believed that fetor hepaticus occurs when there is a blockage in the portal vein which leads to increased pressure on the pulmonary artery. This results in the development of high levels of acidity in the blood. When this happens, it causes the lung tissue to swell and become thickened. This thickening prevents oxygen from reaching the tissues and causes them to die off over time. Eventually, if left untreated, these conditions result in death.

It is important to realize that fetor hepaticus is not a disease itself. Rather it is a condition that can occur when a person has portal hypertension. This condition can be caused by many different factors such as the patient suffering from liver disease or a rare disorder called Budd-Chiari syndrome.

What are the symptoms of fetor hepaticus?

The main symptom is obviously experiencing breathlessness or difficulty breathing. Other symptoms include:

Coughing up of blood

Chronic fatigue


Heart Palpitations

Loss of appetite

Nausea and Vomiting

Fetor Hepaticus 'Breath of the Dead' - at

Shortness of breath even at rest

Skin discoloration (bluish tint) especially around the eyes and mouth.

Weakness and Fatigue

Treatment of fetor hepaticus?

As mentioned above, this condition is often fatal. The only treatment for fetor hepaticus is the surgical removal of the portion of the liver which is inflamed. If this is not done, the patient will die from complications such as heart attacks, strokes and respiratory failures. Again, once this process begins it is usually fatal.

Fetor hepaticus is a rare condition that is considered to be one of the many “mysterious” diseases that we know very little about.



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