Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Darwin: His Illnesses Finally Diagnosed?

After his voyage on the H.M.S Beagle 1831 - 1836, Charles Darwin suffered for ill health for the rest of his life. The reasons given were parasitic infections and stress. At a recent Historical Clinicopathological Conference organized by The University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore and the Veterans Administration Maryland Health Care System, diagnosticians narrowed the field to three ailments: chronic vomiting syndrome, Chagas disease and Helicobacter pylori, or peptic ulcers.

I was familiar with Chagas disease being one of the suspects. Long back I saw a medical forensic documentary on Darwin where Chagas disease was considered the best fit for his symptoms. There was even an attempt to search for the parasite by trying to recover blood thought to be Darwin's which had spilled on one of his letter possibly through a paper cut... Nothing came out of that attempt.

As for his stress and vomiting syndrome, historians who have written about him suggest that the internal conflicts he was having about the implications of his theory and personal tragedies like the death of this son may have much to do with it.

The medical diagnosticians however say that the stresses and vomiting would probably have disappeared if his other parasitic infections were taken care of. ..  There is enough room for doubt about this.. Darwin had a worrying nature. He agonized over everything.. details of his work, the opinion of his very religious minded wife and the health of his children.. He may have been living in the idyllic English countryside but he had much to worry about. Just curing him of parasites may not have been enough to get rid of the stress.

One final thought... why has this case not been featured on House?  It would have made a great episode..solved perhaps when Gregory House himself was receiving treatment for psychiatric disorder.. or better still with House bursting into the Historical Clinicopathological Conference with a smirk and the answer..

What drama!

Tip: Short Sharp Science

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