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Am J Kidney Dis. 1993 Jun;21(6):643-52.

Beethoven's renal disease based on his autopsy: a case of papillary necrosis.

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  • 1Department of Nephrology, Free University, Berlin, Germany.


The autopsy report of Ludwig van Beethoven written by Dr Johann Wagner in 1827 reveals that he had renal calculi that had not been diagnosed during his lifetime, together with perirenal fibrosis. The most comprehensive interpretation of this autopsy finding is that the regular calcareous deposits in every one of his renal calices represented calcified necrotic papillae. Severe urinary obstruction or diabetes as possible causes of papillary necrosis were not present. Analgesic abuse because of headaches, back pain, and attacks of rheumatism or gout may be presumed on the basis of Beethoven's uncontrolled way of taking medication. Salicin, a commonly used analgesic substance of that time (dried and powdered willow bark), is able to cause papillary necrosis. Perirenal fibrosis may be due to chronic infection or drug intake. Beethoven's other well-known diseases are deafness caused by otosclerosis of the inner ear, relapsing attacks of diarrhea as the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, and liver cirrhosis following viral hepatitis and chronic alcohol consumption. Liver cirrhosis also may cause papillary necrosis. In Beethoven's case, renal papillary necrosis was most probably the consequence of analgesic abuse together with decompensated liver cirrhosis. The autopsy report of Beethoven is the first case of papillary necrosis recorded in the literature.

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