The Medical Truth Behind the Vampire Myths
July 29, 2008 by amarisgrey
As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. Several myths have been solved, but there are some out there that still elude peoples rationality. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.
The first disorder that was often mistaken for a symptom of a vampire attack is Anemia. Derived from the Greek word for “bloodlessness”, anemia is a blood disease in which the red-cell count is unusually low. Red cells are the carriers of oxygen throughout the body. When a person suffers from anemia, their symptoms are caused by inadequate oxygen. These symptoms may include:
A pale complexion
Shortness of breath
There are three main causes of anemia: disease, heredity, and severe blood loss. Over the ages, a person suffering from these symptoms may have been under suspicion of a vampire attack. Although the victim may have contracted a disease or simply have inherited the blood disorder, society would have found it easy to believe that the symptoms resulted from a vampire attack, and these symptoms may even have suggested that the victim was beginning his own transition to a vampire, marked with a pale complexion and trouble eating food.
The next disorder, though much rarer than the first, is still very much to blame for the myth. Catalepsy is a disorder of the nervous system that causes a form of suspended animation. It causes a loss of voluntary motion, a rigidity to the muscles, as well as decreased sensitivity to pain and heat. A person suffering from catalepsy can see and hear but cannot move. Their breathing, pulse, and other regulatory functions are slowed that to an untrained eye, it would seem as though they were dead. This condidtion can last from minutes to days. Before 20th century medicine came along, there were few diagnostic tests that could be done on a body to ensure that a person was in fact dead, and so it is likely that persons suffering from catalepsy could have been declared dead prematurely. Embalming a corpse before burial has only been introduced in the last hundred years or so, making it very possible that these bodies were declared dead and buried while the person still lived. Upon recovering from their catalyptic state, the person would try to dig and claw their way to the surface, giving townfolk the idea that these people where rising out of their graves from the dead. Many myths may have arisen from this single condition alone.
Of all the disorders and diseases even loosely linked to vampirism, the most bizarre and unique must be porphyria. It has actually been nicknamed by many doctors as “Vampire’s Desease.” It is a rare hereditary blood disease branched into eight categories:
Acute Intermittent Porphyria (AIP)
Congenital Erythropoietic Porphyria (CEP)
Porphyria Cutanea Tarda (PCT)
ALAD Porphyria (ADP)
Hepatoerythropoietic Porphyria (HEP)
Hereditary Coproporphyria (HCP)
Variegate Porphyria (VP)
Erythropoietic Protoporphyria (EPP) or Protoporphyria
Porphyria, the Greek word for “purple”, is distinctive due it’s discoloration of the urine, often dark blue or purple in color. A victim of porphyria cannot produce heme, a major and vital component of red blood. Today, this disease is treatable with regular injections of heme into the body. However, as little as fifty years ago, this treatment was unavailable and the disease unknown. A common misconception was that ingesting another persons heme (or blood) would replenish one’s own supply, but recent studies have shown this concept completely false.
In the past, a porphyria sufferer would show symptoms that include:
Extreme sensitivity to sunlight
Sores and scars that break open and will not heal properly
Excessive hair growth
Tightening of skin around lips and gums (which would make the incisors more prominent)
These diseases, and others, have been confused for signs of Vampiric transformation for hundreds of years and have only been commonly diagnosed in the last fifty to seventy-five years. Before that time, these illnesses led to many people’s persecution and death. It was only modern medical sciences that not only put and end the “Vampire” scare, but urged doctors to provide treatment for those people suffering from these conditions instead of condemning them. It is my hope that the furthering of medical sciences in the future will put an end to more illnesses like this and make people a little more tolerant.