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Darwin's illness: a final diagnosis


We have re-examined many of the abundant publications on the illness that afflicted Charles Darwin during most of his life, including some of the 416 health-related letters in his correspondence, as well as his autobiographical writings. We have concluded that he suffered from Crohn's disease, located mainly in his upper small intestine. This explains his upper abdominal pain, his flatulence and vomiting, as well as his articular and neurological symptoms, his ‘extreme fatigue’, low fever and especially the chronic, relapsing course of his illness that evolved in bouts, did not affect his life expectancy and decreased with old age, and also the time of life at which it started. It apparently does not explain, however, many of his cutaneous symptoms. We do not support other diagnoses such as Chagas' disease, lactose intolerance or the many psychiatric conditions that have been postulated.


The illness that afflicted Charles Darwin for more than 40 years was a cause of considerable suffering for him (only his wife Emma knew ‘the full amount of suffering he endured’1), and has remained something of a puzzle for physicians since its very beginning (Dr Holland ‘never saw such a case’;2 Dr Gully ‘seems puzzled by my case’;3 Dr Jenner and Dr Brinton found ‘no organic mischief’;4 and his friends thought it was all due to hypochondria, a diagnosis later upheld by Keith and by Hubble5). Since his death in 1882, many pages have been written on the subject, and a large number of mostly conflicting diagnoses have been put forward.6 We shall briefly discuss the more important ones at the end of the article, but first we shall present evidence that strongly suggests that Darwin's disease was, in fact, Crohn's disease.

plenty more: http://rsnr.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/61/1/23.full


Darwin suffered from a debilitating mystery illness for most of his life, with symptoms incluiding had stomach problems, diarrhoea, skin issues, fatigue and vomiting

plenty more: http://www.news.nom.co/channel-4-documentary-dead-8703806-news/

For much of his adult life, Charles Darwin's health was repeatedly compromised by an uncommon combination of symptoms, leaving him severely debilitated for long periods of time. However, in some ways this may have helped his work, and Charles Darwin wrote "Even ill-health, though it has annihilated several years of my life, has saved me from the distractions of society and amusement."
Contribution to Darwin's work:
Interestingly, Darwin's illness may have contributed to his long and fruitful career in science. George Pickering, in his book Creative Malady (1974), wrote that Darwin—isolated from social life and obligations of a "normal" scientist, such as administrative and teaching work—had ample time and material comforts for research, thought, and writing extensively, which he did. Despite long periods of unproductivity due to ill health, he produced much research. Darwin often complained that his malady robbed him of half a lifetime, but even so, many believe that his scientific contributions can be compared favorably to those of such figures as Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.

Darwin himself wrote about this, in his autobiographical "Recollections of the Development of my Mind and Character" (1876):[1]

Lastly, I have had ample leisure from not having to earn my own bread. Even ill-health, though it has annihilated several years of my life, has saved me from the distractions of society and amusement.


Staff member
Very interesting to read all this...so much used to be passed off as imaginary or