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Patty Duke died of a ruptured intestine — what to know about this condition

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

Why intestines rupture and what it means for your health

Patty Duke passed away today at age 69.

Older women (or those of us who just love vintage television shows) will remember Patty Duke as Helen Keller from The Miracle Worker or from The Patty Duke Show, where she adorably played identical twin cousins Patty and Cathy. Younger ladies will recognize her from her cameos on Glee, Liv and Maddie, and Hawaii Five-0. And she'll be sorely missed by people of all ages.

More: Patty Duke's life was filled with more accomplishments that you realize

But how did the beloved actress die? Blood poisoning from a ruptured intestine, according to a statement release by Duke's family:

"This morning, our beloved wife, mother, grandmother, matriarch and the exquisite artist, humanitarian, and champion for mental health Anna PATTY DUKE Pearce, closed her eyes, quieted her pain and ascended to a beautiful place. We celebrate the infinite love and compassion she shared through her work and throughout her life. She died at 1:20 a.m. PST in Couer D’Alene Idaho at Kootenai Health from complications associated with a ruptured intestine."

While it's not common to die of a ruptured intestine, it is often a sign of a larger underlying health condition, says Dr. Anton Bilchik, M.D., chief of medicine and chief of gastrointestinal research at John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California. Since he did not treat Duke, he says it's hard to know what her condition was but said that diverticulitis (infection in the digestive tract) and cancer are two common causes of intestinal rupture.

"Intestines very rarely rupture spontaneously. It's usually an unexpected complication of another illness or a surgical procedure," he explains. "On its own, a ruptured intestine is very treatable with antibiotics or even surgery and your risk of dying from it low."

More: What you need to know about illnesses that ended Glenn Frey's life

But he adds that if the gastrointestinal perforation leads to an infection, that ups the risk of death. This can happen when bacteria, bile, stomach acid, partially digested food and even stool leak into the abdominal cavity. A person would then start to show symptoms of infection like a high fever, vomiting and severe stomach pain, which would need immediate medical attention. If the infection isn't treated right away, that can lead to major problems, including death.

Our condolences to her family as they deal with this immense loss.

Before you go, check out our slideshow below.

Why intestines rupture and what it means for your health
Image: Terese Condella/Sheknows

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