Did my great great grand­mother re­ally die of arthri­tis in her hip?

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - QUESTIONS & ANSWERS -

QMy great great grand­mother, An­toinette Ritchie, (mother of seven chil­dren) died at the age of 33 in Brix­ton, Sur­rey, in 1864. The cause of death given on her death cer­tifi­cate was “Arthri­tis Hip Joint 2 years”. As far as I’m aware, arthri­tis of the hip isn’t fa­tal, so why would this be the cause of her death?

Chris Rose, by email

AFrom the in­for­ma­tion on the death cer­tifi­cate, we do not know what type of arthri­tis this was. In­fec­tious (sep­tic) arthri­tis of the hip could kill, but usu­ally within two years. How­ever, sep­tic arthri­tis is more likely in those who have rheuma­toid arthri­tis as the joints are al­ready in­flamed. If this were the case, as symp­toms are sim­i­lar, An­toinette may not have known the arthri­tis had turned sep­tic.

Rheuma­toid arthri­tis could cause not only joint pain but in­flam­ma­tion in the lungs and heart tis­sue etc. In this in­stance, had your great great grand­mother de­vel­oped ei­ther of th­ese prob­lems, they – com­bined with an in­abil­ity to move well – could have led to her death.

No­tably, the death cer­tifi­cate is sparse on de­tail, omit­ting a sec­ondary cause. This was not un­com­mon. I have seen sev­eral death cer­tifi­cates from the 1860s that are vague on cause of death. One, for ex­am­ple, read sim­ply: “Al­co­hol”. And I have seen death cer­tifi­cates well into the 20th cen­tury that state: “Old Age”. Thus there may have been a sec­ondary fac­tor in the death, such as pneu­mo­nia, which was not noted on the cer­tifi­cate. The many preg­nan­cies that your great great grand­mother had en­dured up to the rel­a­tively young age of 33 may be rel­e­vant also.

Had she given birth within the two years be­fore she died?

It may be use­ful for you to read a re­cent Bri­tish Med­i­cal Jour­nal re­port from 2013 at

bmj.co/1Ed18F5 that cov­ered the case of sep­tic arthri­tis in the hip joint caused by Group B strep­to­cocci in a 30-year-old woman with a his­tory of child­birth.

Arthri­tis can be as se­ri­ous to­day as it was for our an­ces­tors. For more med­i­cal de­tails, visit the Arthri­tis Re­search UK web­site at www.arthri­tis­re­searchuk.org/arthri­tis­in­for­ma­tion/con­di­tions/arthri­tis.aspx.

Emma Jolly

An­toinet­teAt i tt Ritchie’sRit hi ’d death th cer­tifi­catetifi t fromf 21 AprilA il 1864

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