An Update on Mad King George
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King George III

Did you know the planet Uranus used to have a different name? Yes, it was first named after King George III of Great Britain.

King George wasn't only a patron of the sciences; he abolished slavery in England, and began the country's industrial revolution. Despite these significant contributions, he's most remembered for losing America, and for being the Mad King.

In the 1960s, two psychiatrists theorized King George's mental illness was caused by acute or variegate porphyria (poor-FEAR-ee-uh). Porphyria is a rare, genetic blood disorder that can cause 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.

This diagnosis was widely accepted until recently when a new study purported the earlier theory was based on an incomplete review of historical records. A complete examination of King George III's medical records and caretakers' diaries show the king's mania was most likely symptoms of a recurring bipolar disorder. The researchers were able to document four bouts of mental illness.

The King's psychiatrists, called "mad doctors" at the time, wrote about these episodes of psychosis. The first happened when he was 50, and he spent the last ten years of his life suffering chronic mania and dementia.

The researchers speculate King George's other health problems may have contributed to his mental decline. At 70 he was blind from cataracts and increasingly deaf. Combined, the isolating effects of these lost senses may have contributed to his eventual chronic mania.

Records also show that at 70, the king's favorite daughter, Amelia, died. 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.


For more information…

George III: A New Diagnosis
HistoryToday — Recent research by medical scientists and historians suggests that George III had manic depression rather than porphyria. Scholars will need to take a fresh look at his reign, writes Timothy Peters.

The blindness, deafness and madness of King George III: psychiatric interactions.
From the abstract: Recent research has thrown considerable doubt on the claim that King George III suffered from variegate porphyria, but indicates that he suffered recurrent attacks of mania as part of his bipolar disorder.
J R Coll Physicians Edinb. 2010 Mar;40(1):81-5.

Bipolar Disorder Health Center
From WebMD, everything you ever wanted to know about bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression.)