On Christmas Day 2016, the world lost beloved pop star George Michael. The singer and active LGBTQ advocate was just 53 years old, and fans everywhere mourned the tragic loss.
In the days that followed, of course, there was much speculation about the cause of Michael's death — an initial postmortem examination, which was conducted by the Thames Valley police department and released on December 30, was found "inconclusive." But on March 7, 2017, a final coroner's report revealed the truth: The pop legend had died of cardiomyopathy with myocarditis and fatty liver disease.
But what does that even mean? Here, we take a closer look at what, exactly, led to this pop legend's death — and what we can do to protect our own bodies from the same conditions.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy With Myocarditis
Of the two conditions that contributed to Michael's death, dilated cardiomyopathy is the less common. It's a disease that affects the upper and lower chambers of the heart, causing the left ventricle (the heart's main pumping chamber) to stretch and expand, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). When the left ventricle is stretched too thin, a person's heart can't pump blood properly — and, ultimately, this can lead to heart failure.
Approximately one in every 2,500 people in the United States has dilated cardiomyopathy, according to a July 2006 article published in the Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases. Dilated cardiomyopathy can be hereditary, but there are a number of other factors — such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and alcohol and drug abuse — that can also contribute to a person's risk of developing the disease, the AHA reports.
In Michael's case, the coroner suggests that myocarditis might have been the cause of his cardiomyopathy. myocarditis occurs when the wall of a person's heart becomes inflamed as the result of a viral infection, according to Mayo Clinic. It's a rare condition, but it can be deadly — and, unfortunately, aside from taking steps to avoid infections, there isn't much that Michael could have done to protect himself from it.
Fatty Liver Disease
The second condition that contributed to Michael's death, fatty liver disease, has two main causes: excessive alcohol consumption and obesity.
It's hard to say what, exactly, led Michael to develop the condition (though he did have a history of drug and alcohol abuse), but one thing is certain: Fatty liver disease — and especially the non-alcoholic type — is becoming increasingly common.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD, affects approximately one-third of the U.S. population, according to Mayo Clinic. It's caused by obesity and high blood sugar (so it's especially common in people with type 2 diabetes) and, if left untreated, can lead to liver failure.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Own Heart and Liver
Although genetics can play a roll in the development of both of these conditions, there are a few things you can do to protect your body from heart and liver diseases in general. The AHA and Mayo Clinic recommend the following:
- Follow a well-balanced diet that's low in added sugar.
- Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight.
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.