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New Theory Emerges on Darwin's Illness

Vomiting syndrome made him a recluse at times, researcher says

THURSDAY, Dec. 17 (HealthDay News) -- An Australian researcher claims he has identified the illness that caused the renowned naturalist Charles Darwin to suffer nausea, vomiting, headaches and skin problems for most of his adult life.

Numerous mental and physical diagnoses have been suggested for the illness that could be so disabling that Darwin would become a virtual recluse for periods of time. These include hypochondria, panic disorder, middle ear infection, arsenic poisoning and tropical parasitic disease.

But John Hayman, of Monash University in Melbourne, reports that Darwin likely suffered from cyclical vomiting syndrome (CVS), a disease that mainly affects children but can emerge for the first time in adulthood. The disease, which is related to migraine, is associated with genetic abnormalities.

Symptoms of CVS include severe sickness, anxiety, headaches, intense abdominal pain, eczema and recurrent skin infections. Darwin's mother and members of her family suffered from these conditions, Hayman noted.

"Darwin was not aware of mitochondria or of genes and genetic mutations, but he was very much aware of random variations within species," Hayman wrote. "His personal inherited genetic variation made him substantially 'less fit,' but his survival prospects were greatly increased by his driving intellect, loyal colleagues, a devoted wife, family and household servants and his personal wealth."

The article was published online Dec. 14 in

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about cyclical vomiting syndrome.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: British Medical Journal, news release, Dec. 14, 2009

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