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Clinician Katherine Hall Claims Alexander The Great Had Guillain-Barré Syndrome, Declared Dead 6 Days Before He Died

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Alexander the Great's body did not decay for nearly a week after his death. Katherine Hall said this and symptoms of the ancient conqueror's illness suggest he likely had the autoimmune disorder Guillain-Barré Syndrome.  ( Wikimedia Commons )

What caused Alexander the Great's early death has long been a mystery. Historical records show that when the famed conqueror died, his body did not show signs of decay for six day.

For the ancient Greeks, this confirmed what Alexander also thought about himself: the young Macedonian king was not an ordinary man, but a god.

Cause Of Alexander The Great's Death

At 32 years old, Alexander created one of the largest empires in the ancient world that stretched from Greece to northwestern India. He was poised for another invasion in in 323 BC, when he fell ill. He died after 12 days of suffering from severe abdominal pain.

The theories surrounding the cause of Alexander's death abound, from typhoid, malaria, alcohol poisoning to murder.

A new theory now proposes Alexander may have suffered from the neurological disorder that caused his early death.

In an article published in The Ancient History Bulletin, Dunedin School of Medicine senior lecturer Katherine Hall said previous theories around the ancient ruler's death have not been satisfactory because these focused on the agonizing fever and abdominal pain Alexander had prior to his death.

"In particular, none have provided an all-encompassing answer which gives a plausible and feasible explanation for a fact recorded by one source — Alexander's body failed to show any signs of decomposition for six days after his death," Hall said.

Hall said Alexander was also known to have developed "progressive, symmetrical, ascending paralysis". He also remained compos mentis, which means fully in control of his mental faculties, until just before he died.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome

Hall thinks the ruler had Guillain-Barré Syndrome, or GBS, a rare but serious autoimmune disorder characterized by the immune system attacking the healthy cells of the nervous system causing a range of symptoms that include weakness, numbness, tingling, and even paralysis.

Even today, there is no known cure for Guillain-Barré syndrome, albeit there are therapies that can lessen the severity of the illness and shorten the time of recovery. It affects only about one in 100,000 Americans.

Hall said this can explain the combination of symptoms better than other theories about Alexander's death.

The practicing clinician believes Alexander may have contracted the disorder from an infection of Campylobacter pylori. He likely got a variant of GBS that causes paralysis without causing confusion or unconsciousness.

Pseudothanatos

His paralysis and lowered demand for oxygen would have reduced visibility of his breathing. This and his paralysis could explain the preservation of Alexander's body. He likely did not show signs of decomposition because he was declared dead before he actually died.

Hall said Alexander may have the most famous case of pseudothanatos, or false diagnosis of death.

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