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Famous Medical Health Mysteries from the Past

Updated on July 6, 2012

Recent advances in technology have changed the original diagnosis of what caused the death of famous patients. Many times, the original diagnosis of their cause of death was incorrect based on what information was available at the time. This is significant in most cases.

Since 1995,  a group of medical experts have been re-examining the death causes of many famous people and applying modern diagnosis techniques with surprising results:

  • Charles Darwin, who died in 1882, had been diagnosed with severe abdominal pain and would puke after every meal. Modern medicine recognizes this as Chagas' disease or CVS (cyclic vomiting syndrome), a childhood disease that is contracted from a parasite, Helicobacter pylori. It is suspected he got this during his travels on the HMS Beagle. It causes peptic ulcers. His immediate cause of death was congestive heart failure that was brought on by a bug bite that he wrote about in 1835. The bug passes a pathogen that lies dormant for years and emerges producing  arrhythmias.
  • Florence Nightingale, the famous nurse who cared for thousands of soldiers during the Crimean War years. She was bedridden for years after the war and died of complications. Doctors today state she suffered from a bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.
  • Akhenaten, the Egyptian pharaoh, had an odd shaped head and female breasts but was male. Today, it would be called Aromatase Excess Syndrome, which was discovered in 1977.
  • Christopher Columbus, the man who discovered North America, called the New World, then, paid a price. He suffered from a crippling arthritis acquired from beautiful parrots that he brought back to impress the Spanish monarchs.
  • Greek historian, Thucydides, described in his writings about a rash that broke out in Athens in  400 B.C. After studying the death of Pericles in 1999, modern medicine decided his death was from typhus, a disease spread by fleas.
  • Alexander the Great, who conquered much of the ancient world with his army by 323 B.C., died at 30 years. History notes he was poisoned and that he drank himself to death. A reexamination of accounts has led to the diagnosis of typhoid fever. He slowly lost his speech, had difficulty in walking, and paralysis. All from  contaminated food or water.
  • Ivan the Terrible, Russia's most tortuous ruler from 1530-1584, died from his addiction to mercury. The skin of his body peeled off and gave off a foul smell. He also had syphilis.
  • Jane Austen, the still famous author died in 1817, she  wrote about how weak she had become, fever, bile and discolored skin. She died from  Addison's disease, Hodgkins lymphoma and bovine tuberculosis from unpasteurized milk.
  • Louisa Alcott, another still famous author, died at 55 from a sudden stroke, so they thought at the time. Today, this was brought on by mercury poisoning from medication to fight typhoid fever. The mercury severely compromised her immunity and created a severe case of systemic lupus erythematosus.
  • Vicent van Gogh, the famous artist lived from 1853-1890, created awesome works of art and was portrayed in a film by Kirk Douglas, killed himself at 37. Current theories for this condition are bipolar disorder, Meniere's disease (inner ear), epilepsy, and lead poisoning from the paints he used.


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    • dialogue profile image

      dialogue 6 years ago

      interesting hub... well written too. i like it.

    • perrya profile image

      perrya 6 years ago

      Thanks very much!

    • profile image

      Fay Paxton 6 years ago

      What a very interesting read. Voted up and awesome.