TB may have killed Jane Austen

Novelist Jane Austen may have died from tuberculosis rather than Addison's disease as is widely believed, an expert said yesterday.

Austen described a set of symptoms in her letters which are unrelated to the mental confusion, general pain and weight loss suffered by people with Addison's, according to Katherine White, a scholar from the Addison's Disease Self Help Group. Addison's disease is a rare disorder of the adrenal glands, if left untreated it can cause adrenal crisis, which results in severe pain and mental confusion.

Mrs White said many of Austen's symptoms could be linked to Addison's but there was an absence of weight loss, pain and confusion.

"In a letter written not long before her death, as she was recovering from illness, Jane Austen wrote to a close friend that 'My head was always clear, and I had scarcely any pain'," Mrs White said. "Austen retained her formidable lucidity to the last. Therefore, we can conclude that it is most likely she did not die from Addison's."

Mrs White said that Austen, who died aged 41, most likely succumbed to tuberculosis.