(NEW YORK) — The sudden death of 49-year-old author Julie Powell, whose life inspired the movie Julie & Julia, is raising new questions about her health, including a recent battle with COVID-19.
Her husband, Eric Powell, reported to The New York Times on Tuesday that the author died of a cardiac arrest on Oct. 26 at their home in Olivebridge, New York.
As many fans took to social media to express condolences, questions arose around some of Powell’s final tweets, including her recent COVID-19 recovery and a “black hairy tongue.”
On Oct. 25, a day before Powell reportedly died, the food writer tweeted that she woke up with black hairy tongue, adding further, “people, including my doctor, seem to think it’s no big deal, and will go away soon, but it certainly is gross.”
While alarming by sight, black hairy tongue is a benign and temporary condition that can be caused by a variety of factors including excessive alcohol, coffee or black tea intake, dehydration, smoking, poor oral hygiene or even certain medications, according to Dr. Darien Sutton, a board-certified emergency medicine physician and ABC News medical contributor.
Earlier this fall, in September, Powell — who gained notoriety as the food writer behind the Julie/Julia blog that chronicled her journey cooking all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking — tweeted about suffering from COVID-19, writing that her symptoms included fatigue and a cough.
According to Sutton, there is “no reason to believe” that Powell’s diagnosis of black hairy tongue is associated with her battle with COVID-19.
Sutton said we also have “no evidence” that her death was associated with her COVID diagnosis.
“I think the reason why people speculated about this is that we know that there’s an association between COVID-19 and an increased risk of certain conditions that can cause cardiac arrest,” said Sutton, noting that data shows patients with COVID-19 are more likely to face increased risks of heart attacks, abnormal heart rhythms and blood clots.
In Powell’s case, the only known fact about her death is her husband’s report that it was due to cardiac arrest, which is a broad term, according to Sutton.
“It simply means that the heart has stopped functioning,” he said of cardiac arrest. “We do not know her medical history other than what she relayed in her tweets.”
Cardiac arrest is the cause of as many as 450,000 deaths in the United States each year, according to the National Institute of Health.
Heart disease is also the number one cause of death for women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The disease can be caused by a range of things like diabetes, smoking, an unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity and more. Sutton added it is also possible to suffer cardiac arrest due to factors not related to having heart disease, such as problems with the lungs, electrolytes or blood disorders.
“Unfortunately for cardiac arrest, there are no real symptoms,” said Sutton. “It’s often a sudden loss of consciousness.”
If you see a person lose consciousness, Sutton recommends immediately dialing 911 and starting CPR.
The American Heart Association offers resources for people who want to get education and training to provide first aid and CPR that could save a life.
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