Napoleon felled by ulcers, cancer, says study

European history was altered by a bacterial infection in someone's stomach, according to a report from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

The stomach in question belonged to Napoleon, and the infection led to ulcers, which likely caused the French dictator to get cancer and die. Even if Napoleon had managed to escape from house arrest on the island of St. Helena, where the British stuck him after the 1815 battle of Waterloo, he would have been too weak to mount a comeback, the researchers added.

The study also cast doubt on the theory that Napoleon was poisoned with arsenic.

Dr. Robert Genta at UT, along with Canadian and Swiss scientists, essentially took the notes from the autopsy conducted at Napoleon's death and threw it a battery of modern tests. The autopsy descriptions show that Napoleon's stomach was filled with a dark material that resembled coffee grounds, an indication of gastrointestinal bleeding that likely was the immediate cause of death, according to Genta. The doctors then compared the descriptions against modern images of 50 benign ulcers and 50 gastric cancers. They determined that no benign cancer could look like the lesion described in the autopsy.

"It was a huge mass from the entrance of his stomach to the exit. It was at least 10 centimeters long. Size alone suggests the lesion was cancer," Genta said in a prepared statement.

Genta also noted that contemporaries noted that Napoleon--who was rather tubby in his lifetime--lost 20 pounds toward the end. An ironic ending for a man who has a pastry named after him.

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