An Update on Mad King George

By Medical Discovery News

June 23, 2012

King George III

Before the planet Uranus was given its present-day name, it was called Georgium Sidus, after King George III of Great Britain. Not only was King George a patron of the sciences, under his rule slavery was abolished in England and the country’s Industrial Revolution began. Despite these significant contributions, he’s most remembered for losing America, and for being the Mad King.

A 1994 movie, “The Madness of King George,” depicted the court intrigue surrounding the King’s illness and his son’s maneuvering to become regent and rule the kingdom. In the film, the cause of the King’s mental state is suggested as intermittent porphyria, which has been an accepted diagnosis among many scientists.

Now a new study disputes this claim. TJ Peters and A Beveridge reevaluated King George’s medical records and believe Ida Macalpine and Richard Hunter based the porphyria diagnosis on an incomplete review of historical records. They are a mother and son, both psychiatrists, who studied health accounts of the King in the 1960s and theorized he had acute or variegate porphyria.

Porphyria disorders are a rare hereditary disease, which is the inability to make a key component of the oxygen-carrying molecule called heme.  People with porphyria are missing enzymes that produce heme molecules, which creates the build-up of a precursor biochemical called porphyrins. This can result in abdominal pain, muscle weakness, nervous system deficits, and personality changes. The disease lasts a lifetime and acute attacks and symptoms can appear and disappear over many years.

Those who believe porphyria caused King George’s mental problems point to the drugs and treatments he was given as being partially responsible. Many of those medications contained arsenic, a poison that scientists found in high levels when they tested the King’s hair.

But Peters and Beveridge believe neither medication nor porphyria are to blame. They believe the King’s mania was more likely symptomatic of a recurring bipolar disorder. The researchers examined medical records along with journals from his caretakers and were able to document four bouts of mental illness. His psychiatrists, called “mad doctors” at the time, treated King George and documented these episodes of psychosis. The first happened when he was 50, and then he spent the last ten years of his life suffering chronic mania and dementia.

The researchers further speculate King George’s other health problems may have contributed to his mental decline. At 70 he was blind from cataracts and thought to be increasingly deaf. The isolating effect of these lost senses may have contributed to his eventual chronic mania.  Records also show the king’s favorite daughter, Amelia, died when he was 70. By the end of that year he was declared permanently insane and lived in seclusion at Windsor Castle until his death at 81 years old.

Click here for a link to this story.

%d bloggers like this: