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In autopsy, the liver can give clues to alcohol use

Taconic Parkway crash driver Diane Schuler

Taconic Parkway crash driver Diane Schuler Photo Credit: Handout

An autopsy on Diane Schuler's body showed no underlying medical conditions, authorities have said. A toxicology test showed she had a .19 blood alcohol level and she had 6 grams of undigested alcohol in her stomach. It was not clear whether the autopsy found any signs of alcohol-related damage to her liver.

The liver of a "chronic alcoholic" would show scarring and may be enlarged and misshapen - all signs of cirrhosis that could be detected during a routine autopsy, said Dr. Elliot Gross, the former chief medical examiner of New York City.

Heavy alcohol use causes the liver to store fat, making it turn yellow and harden, another sign immediately detectable during an autopsy, Gross said.

Generally, these conditions require many years of alcoholism, along with poor nutrition, Gross said. They would be considered underlying medical conditions on autopsy, in most circumstances, he said.

Forensic pathologists can sometimes detect a recent alcoholic by studying liver samples under a microscope, Gross said.

Gross said, generally speaking, that if no signs of liver damage are found on routine autopsy and under the microscope in liver samples, the deceased was probably not a heavy drinker or had not been drinking heavily for more than a few months.

-Click here to see family photos of the Schulers, and the latest photos in the case

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