Jane Austin and Addison’s

Two medical historians, Dr George Biro and Dr Jim Leavesley, have written a book on medical conditions in historical personages. One entry caught my notice and I thought it may be of interest to the Addison’s Disease Association.

Jane Austen wrote her first novel in 1811.

She published it as "by a lady" being of very shy nature. Over the next seven years she wrote six novels on which her considerable and lasting reputation rests. When she was 40, she stated having bouts of nausea, vomiting and backaches. This was followed by depression and weakness. The next symptoms were mood swings and more backaches. She put the nausea and vomiting down to "bile" or gastric upsets. In 1817 she wrote to a friend that "she was recovering her looks which had been black and white and every wrong colour". The nausea and vomiting continued with weakness and fainting fits and on July 18th she died aged 42.

Thomas Addison only graduated two years before her death so the disease was not known at that time. Anyway, women especially just put up with being "poorly" and did not always consult a doctor. This would be more so in a shy woman like Jane Austen.

The two doctors writing the book considered her symptoms and while some other diseases fitted some of the symptoms, Addison’s disease was the best fit. We shall never know for sure but it is an interesting proposition. We can be thankful that in this day it can be treated.

by Dr. Lorna Cartwright