What was the cause of Frederic Chopin's death?

Chopin's death from tuberculosis was widely believed to be the cause of death until at least 140 years after his passing. But some medical professionals discounted TB as a possible source of Chopin's ongoing breathing problems.

What was the cause of Frederic Chopin's death?
How did Frederic Chopin pass away? Credit: Wikimedia

Since Chopin's main illness was chronic pulmonary tuberculosis, no one questioned the idea that he died of tuberculosis at least 140 years after his death. But some doctors didn't think that tuberculosis was likely to be the cause of Chopin's long-term respiratory illness. A study done in 2017 found that Chopin probably died from pericarditis, which is a rare side effect of long-term tuberculosis.

In the first half of the 19th century, TB was common in northern Europe. Tuberculosis is one of the so-called "diseases of the poor," but it was also very easy for wealthier people, better educated, and better fed to get it.

The composer had tuberculosis and had been living with it for 24 years. During his whole life, Chopin stood 170 centimeters tall and weighed less than 45 kilograms. Chopin often lost weight after getting a respiratory illness, and he didn't eat the way his doctors told him to. He was known to have a bad cough that wouldn't go away. His cough was usually the worst in the morning.

Doctors started doing scientific studies in the late 1980s to find out more about the real cause of the composer's death.

But in 2017, a medical study led by Professor Michael Witt of the Polish Academy of Sciences confirmed that Fryderyk Chopin probably died of a rare complication of tuberculosis. This ended decades of debate and writing about what killed the composer.

Chopin died in 1849, and pericarditis, a rare complication of long-term tuberculosis, was probably the cause. Cystic fibrosis, a disease that runs in families, and alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, a rare genetic disorder that makes people more likely to get lung infections, were also mentioned as possible causes of death.

Many people think that Chopin's younger sister Emilie also died at the age of 14 from cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis is not contagious like tuberculosis is. Instead, it is caused by genes and is passed down through families.

In 2017, a group of Polish scientists looked at Chopin's heart for the first time since 1945. Chopin's heart has been kept in Warsaw's Holy Cross Catholic Church for a long time. He asked for it to be kept there, and scientists have confirmed that it is still "perfectly sealed in a cognac-filled jar".

Professor Michael Witt, who is in charge of the group, has said that the jar must never be opened. Doing so would hurt Chopin's heart and destroy a holy relic for the Polish people. Also, scientists are sure that what they have learned this time will lead them to the real reason why the great genius died.