Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Question from Leia - Diabetes in Tudor times

I know back in Tudor times they had deadly illnesses they called "the sweating sickness" and of course the plague and childbed fever. I wondered if there was ever any reference to a disease that could have been diabetes. I'm sure type 2 wasn't very prevalent back then, although Henry VIII would have been a prime candidate for it. I have had type 1 for 15 years and am very into 16th century England. I wondered if there was any symptoms in England teens and kids that could have been type 1. In the early 1900's before insulin was invented diabetes was called the "sugar disease". I thought maybe there would be something similar to this that may have surfaced during this time as well. Of course I know that many children perished in these times because of lack of medical awareness and vaccines and such so it may be hard to pinpoint this many years later any symptoms or illnesses that may point to diabetes. Also these children would have lived only a month or two at best so they probably went to quick for anyone to make the connection to the thirst and the "fruity breath" which is characteristic of untreated diabetes. This has been on my mind for a while- thanks for the help!


Blogger Foose said...

There are some historians who think that Prince Joao of Portugal, the son of Catherine of Aragon's niece Catherine of Austria and John III of Portugal, died of juvenile diabetes. But other historians think he died of tuberculosis.

At this distance it's difficult to tell. The symptoms of diabetes type I or II could be masked by or confused by the doctors of the period with those of tuberculosis, gout, and even inherited syphilis.

August 26, 2008 10:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, there is recent speculation that the "consumption" that killed Arthur, Prince of Wales; Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset (Henry VIII's illegitimate son) and possibly Edward VI was not tuberculosis, but uncontrolled diabetes. Various sources claim that all were frail - others that they appeared healthy during childhood. They all died prior to age eighteen. All suffered from a "wasting" (ie. severe weight loss) disease. Arhtur prior to death, particularly, complained of an unquenchable thirst.
Sources describe the symptoms of Edward's disease as being clearly that of tuberculosis (racking cough, black or bloody sputum, etc.). Still, given that which is known/surmised about the deaths of his half-brother and uncle and others in his family, diabetes cannot be ruled out as a contributing factor.
As you have said, Henry VIII appears to be a prime candidate for type II diabetes. Although he was a strikingly handsome and atheletic man in his youth, by his forties he was grossly overweight. Add to that violent mood swings, signs of dementia in old age and a supurating leg wound (originally caused by a riding accident) that would not heal and you could make a pretty convincing argument that Henry VIII died of untreated diabetes.
Medical treatment in the 16th century for royals varied wildly. It was considered treason to speculate (ie. diagnose) that a sitting monarch had a terminal disease. Often monarchs were prescribed bed rest when all around them could see they were dying. At other times, methods used to effect cures could best be described as barbaric by 21st century sensibilities. One can only speculate what 16th century physicians considered "consumption". We give that term its 19th century definition, tuberculosis. This seems to coincide with 16th century "consumptive lung disease" - the definition of symptoms given to Edward VI. "Consumption" itself may have meant something completely different at the time. Diabetes was unknown, "consumption" was not and appeared to be a common cause of death. Are these different terms for the same disease? We just don't know.

September 01, 2008 11:25 AM  

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