Porphyria

12–14–16, Brian

Alright boyos today we’re going to learn about a rare disorder: porphyria (technically porphyria is a collection of diseases). Lefko — this is another word with Greek origin, I’ll reveal the etymology later but you’ll see it coming. It’s caused by a buildup of the stuff that creates porphyrins, which help hemoglobin do it’s job of carrying oxygen to your organs (@@@medlsaves plz fill in the gaps there). Porphyria is currently incurable and largely genetic. What makes this disease so shitty? Well, the symptoms fall into two categories. Some people have symptoms in one of the two categories, but some get the double whammy.

The first category is symptoms that root from the nervous system being attacked. Some symptoms include: severe abdominal pain, swelling of the abdomen (abdominal distention), pain in your chest, legs or back, constipation or diarrhea, vomiting, insomnia, heartbeat palpitations, high blood pressure, anxiety or restlessness, seizures, mental changes, such as confusion, hallucinations, disorientation or paranoia, breathing problems, muscle pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness or paralysis. While that’s quite the laundry list of unfortunate symptoms, they also aren’t that distinct from other shitty things that could be happening in your body. But there’s one more symptom in this category that is sure to stick out. You piss becomes a purplish color. Which brings us back to the etymology. Porphyria comes from the Greek word for purple, porphyra. These attacks can be caused by smoking, alcohol, certain medications, or stress.

The second category of symptoms revolves around the skin. Porphyrins can build up on in the skin, which is a problem because these little buggers are photoactive. When exposed to light, even for as little as 30 minutes, they can cause a sever burning pain (without turning the skin red) or blisters. Additionally, these fotoactive phuckers can affect hair growth in either direction — make it fall out or make more grow.

Now this is all very unfortunate, but there is something interesting about it. Some believe that porphyria, which caused people with the disease to sometimes grow excess fine hair on their face and only come out at night and others to stay inside and become very pale, to be the root of the myths of vampires and werewolves. It sounds wild, but some people with porphyria also develop an aversion to garlic and have shrinking gums, which gives the appearance of fangs. Some may have thought that people with porphyria had purple blood because they were drinking straight blood. People that suffered from excessive hair growth on their faces were mistaken for werewolves. While all of this leading to the ideas of vampires and werewolves is speculative, the disease is sometimes called the Vampire Disease.

Other fun nuggets: several monarchs suffered from porphyria (which makes sense because it’s genetic), including King George III. Some think Van Gogh had it as well. Environmental contaminants can also cause prophyria, shown by Turkey in the 1950s when 4,000 people developed porphyria after eating wheat that had been sprayed by a certain pesticide (which is now banned worldwide).