Robespierre suffered from a rare immune disease

Sarcoidosis: revolutionary Robespierre suffered from rare immune disease

The French revolutionary Maximilien de Robespierre probably suffered from the rare immune disease sarcoidosis. Researchers came to this conclusion after evaluating his death mask and historical documents on his medical history.

Disfigured by hate? In his book "The French Revolution", the French historian François Furet wrote: "Rarely has a man been disfigured by hatred like Maximilien de Robespierre. This hatred has made the cabinet politician a demagogue, the man of moderation the bloodthirsty beast, the agile parliamentarian the dictator, the uncompromising believer in God the despiser of religion. ”But it was probably not the hatred that disfigured the face of the revolutionary executed in 1794. Scientists at the University of Versailles are much more convinced that Robespierre suffered from a rare immune disease.

Robespierres death mask evaluated The forensicists Philippe Charlier and Philippe Froesch write in the British journal "The Lancet" that it was probably sarcoidosis (Boeck's disease), a disease in which the immune system is directed against the own body. The researchers had evaluated both the Robespierres death mask, which Marie Tussaud made shortly after his decapitation, and historical documents on his medical history. Numerous symptoms such as nosebleeds, visual disturbances, jaundice, persistent fatigue and recurrent leg ulcers were described by contemporary witnesses. The revolutionary also suffered from constant twitching of the eyes and mouth. It is said that the symptoms of the disease have increased in his last four years.

Small nodules in the organs The sarcoidosis, which occurs very rarely, is an inflammatory disease in which small nodules, so-called granulomas, can occur in practically all organs. The lungs, skin and lymph nodes are most often affected. In Robespierre's time, a diagnosis of the disease was still unthinkable; it was first scientifically described in 1877 by the British doctor Sir Jonathan Hutchinson. Even today, the diagnosis of sarcoidosis is often difficult. Because of the often symptom-free swelling of the lymph nodes, the disease is often found accidentally in the chest X-ray.

Cause of the disease unknown The exact cause of the disease is still unknown. However, it is clear that the cause of the typical nodule formation is a malfunction in the immune system. So far, however, it is not yet understood in detail how this faulty control occurs. Hereditary factors as well as environmental influences could play a role. Sarcoidosis usually occurs between the ages of 20 and 40 and women are affected somewhat more often than men. The symptoms disappear in many patients even without treatment, in others they increase gradually or chronically. Sarcoidosis patients are treated with cortisone drugs that suppress the immune system to relieve the discomfort. About five percent of those affected die from the disease.

Diagnosis not certain The French forensic scientists admit that their current diagnosis is not certain. Robespierre's well-known symptoms would also fit in with various other clinical pictures, but not as well as with sarcoidosis. For example, tuberculosis without the typical cough or fever or another immune disease in which the vessels are inflamed are also conceivable. Due to the described skin complaints, the two researchers do not rule out scleroderma, in which the skin and internal organs harden. It remained unknown how Robespierre's personal doctor treated the patient. Since he had eaten a lot of oranges, there is evidence of fruit therapy. In addition, Charlier and Froesch assume baths and the bloodletting that was common at the time. (ad)

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