Porphyria: The Unusual Vampiric Blood Disorder

Porphyria: The Unusual Vampiric Blood Disorder
© Photograph by Veronika

Truth be told that while the majority of vampire scholars converge on the cultural roots of vampire lore, some historians have looked to physical and genetic origins. There is no scientific evidence of actual vampires, but there are a number of real medical conditions that might result in vampiric behaviour or physical appearance.

There exists a fairly isolated group of genetic disorders that have unfairly branded many sufferers with the term “vampire.“ These unfortunate souls are extremely sensitive to sunlight that can easily result in skin burns and abrasions, and so they favour the comfort of darkness. They endure acute attacks of abdominal distress, vomiting and loose stools. Their urine may have a purplish-red colour leading some to wrongly believe that it results from drinking human blood.

Those afflicted may have developed hair growth, and with replicated damage, their skin tightens and shrinks. When this occurs around the mouth, the canine teeth appear to be more prominent, threatening, and evocative of fangs. At other times, it causes depression and induces the brain to produce a certain peculiar behaviour, often associated with necromanticism and an instinct of seductive charm. Porphyria is a misunderstood condition that has affected the likes of Mary, Queen of Scots and King George III of the United Kingdom.

Heme is an iron-containing compound used throughout the body. The most common heme-containing substance found in our bodies is the haemoglobin in our red blood cells — an essential component to transport oxygen around our bodies. There are at least eight steps in the production of heme, and at least eight distinct types of porphyria can result when an enzyme malfunctions and levels of intermediate substances spread to beyond what the body is accustomed to. It is a condition that runs in family bloodlines and is inherited. At one time, it was speculated to be a dominant trait requiring only one gene from one progenitor, but there are recessive forms now distinguished in which genes need to come from both progenitors.

Porphyria is very challenging to diagnose as its symptoms mimic those of a hundred other conditions. Traditional testing rarely manifests a problem, and sufferers who develop recurrent acute attacks often require strong narcotics to control the abdominal pain. They often undergo surgery for appendicitis or ovarian conditions without positive verdicts, and then sprint the risk of being labelled with a narcotic addiction. There are no easy tests available to diagnose the various porphyria conditions. The greatest time to attempt diagnosis is when the symptoms are active. Special urine tests looking for porphobilinogen and delta-aminolevulinic acid can provide an offset proof. More intricate testing then follows in an attempt to make a precise diagnosis.

Porphyria sufferers are affected by aught that can alter the function of the deficient enzymes. This can occur to varying degrees. Some individuals are affected so slightly that the diagnosis is never considered. Herbs, drugs, alcohol and even hormones can produce critical attacks by interposing with the enzyme function. Sufferers are counselled as to which medications to withdraw. Sustaining a vigorous diet low in carbohydrates is imperative. The greatest discovery of all is that if the diagnosis is considered, then infusing heme molecules produced in the laboratory can treat acute attacks. After all, heme is what the body is ultimately craving when an attack occurs.

Fortunately nowadays, specialists have the knowledge and mechanisms to accurately determine whether or not someone is alive, but in the past, people would decide based only on appearance. In the middle-ages, porphyria sufferers would often be mistakenly buried as corpses, as embalming was unknown in most of the world until quite recently a body would have easily been put right in the ground as is. A cataleptic episode can last many hours, even days, which would allow enough time for a burial. When the individual came to their senses, he or she would have had to dig their way out of their own grave to survive.If the individual did suffer from a psychological disorder, such as schizophrenia, he or she might have exhibited the strange and disturbing behaviour associated with vampires.

Through the centuries, the behaviour of genuine corpses might have suggested vampirism as well. After death, fingernails and hair often appear to continue growing because the surrounding skin recedes, which may give the impression of life. Gases in the body expand, extending the abdomen as if the body had gorged itself. If you were to stake a decomposing corpse, it could very well rupture, draining all sorts of fluids. This might be taken as evidence that the corpse had been feeding on the living.

While these conditions might have kindled a fear of the undead, the original causes of vampire lore are most likely psychological rather than physical. Death is one of the most mysterious aspects of life, and all cultures are preoccupied with it to some degree. One way to get a handle on death is to personify it — to give it some tangible form. At their root, Lamashtu, Lilith and similar early vampires are explanations for a terrifying mystery, the sudden death of young children and fetuses in the womb. The strigoi and other animated corpses are the ultimate symbols of death — they are the actual remains of the deceased.

In mythology and other beliefs, vampires also personify the dark side of humanity. Lilith, Lamashtu and the other early vampire demonesses are the opposite of the “good wife and mother.” Instead of minding for children and honouring a spouse, they would slaughter infants and seduce men. Likewise, undead vampires would feed on their beloved ones, rather than supporting them. By defining evil through supernatural values, individuals can acquire a better handle on their own evil tendencies — they externalise them.

Either psychological or physical, when encountering what may seem to be supernatural, consider the evidence because it usually provides an alternately plausible explanation. Please remember that those “vampires” may be nothing more than ordinary individuals undergoing distress.

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