Understanding the results of the post-mortem

Post-mortem examination results are set out in a particular format, as on this page. The same format is on the final death certificate from the Registry Office.

As soon as the Pathologist sends through the result of the post-mortem examination we will telephone the agreed point of contact to explain the findings. You can see an example of the post-mortem examination format and results below.

1a - the disease or condition immediately causing death 

1b - the underlying cause of 1a 

1c - the underlying cause of 1b 

2 - any disease or condition that did not cause death but contributed in some way 

It is not always necessary to fill in sections 1b, 1c or 2.

Here is an example of a simple natural cause of death; 

1a - Myocardial Infarction 

1b - Coronary Artery Atheroma 

1c -  

2 - Diabetes

We would explain this by saying that the immediate cause of this person's death was a myocardial infarction, which is the medical term for a heart attack. This was caused by coronary artery atheroma which is commonly known as 'hardening' or 'furring up' of the arteries - a condition which reduces the blood supply to the heart. The person also had diabetes in the background. 

While we can explain the causes of death that the pathologist found, we do not have your relative's full medical history. If you have questions about their individual case or the treatment they received, you may want to speak to a doctor that treated them at hospital, or to their GP.

Obtaining a copy of the post-mortem examination report

If the cause of death is ascertained at the time of the post-mortem examination the Pathologist will tell us their findings immediately but their full written report is not usually available until 6 weeks after the examination. If the cause of death is not immediately ascertained and histology and/or toxicology samples have been retained for further analysis we would again expect the report within 6-12 weeks of the post-mortem examination unless there has been a specialist examination.  

The Coroner is content to share a copy of the pathologist’s post-mortem examination report with the next of kin or other “interested persons”. Please let us know if you would like to receive the full report. Do bear in mind that the report contains detailed and explicit medical information and many people find this unpleasant reading.  

The Coroner’s Officer will provide an overview of the content of the Pathologist’s report but they are not medically trained and so detailed explanations of post-mortem examination findings may be better addressed by your GP.