Ancient Vampire Folklore May Have Roots in Modern Medical Science

Ancient Vampire Folklore May Have Roots in Modern Medical Science

Vampire folklore is prevalent throughout European history. Some tales date back as far as the 12th century. It’s possible that these early tales of vampires were spawned by real medical conditions.


There are several types of porphyria. Four of the types have symptoms of light sensitivity: Variegate Porphyria, Porphyria Cutanea Tarda (PCT), Erythropoietic Protoporphyria (EPP) or Protoporphyria, and Congenital Erythropoetic Porphyria (C.E.P.). Other symptoms include brown teeth, red and sometimes bloody gums, and hypertrichosis (excessive hair growth). These symptoms mirror many vampire legends. However, victims of porphyria do not crave or drink blood.


Catalepsy is a neurological condition characterized by a decreased sensitivity to pain coupled with muscular rigidity. Patients with catalepsy do not respond to external stimuli. They are aware of their surroundings but cannot speak or move. Attacks of catalepsy last for a few minutes or for several days.

In severe cases, a person who is suffering from a cataleptic attack will appear dead. Signs of life can only be detected my means of modern medical equipment. Ancient sufferers of catalepsy may have been buried alive. Later, when they regained muscular control they would have tried to free themselves from their coffins. Some vampire folklore describes noises coming from freshly buried coffins. When local villagers exhumed these graves and opened them, scratch marks were found on the inside, leading villagers to conclude vampires were trying to escape from their graves.


Anemia is a condition that is characterized by the blood not having enough healthy red blood cells. Since red blood cells transfer oxygen throughout the body, symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, vertigo, and weakness. These symptoms are caused by the body’s organs not receiving enough oxygen. These symptoms also mirror the symptoms of vampire victims in early folklore. Anemia is a very common condition.

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Bats and Wolves, both of which are oftentimes associated with vampires, are common carriers of the disease rabies. Rabies has symptoms that mirror vampirism. Hyper-sensitivity, a symptom of rabies, could result in light or garlic aversion. Other symptoms include becoming nocturnal due to abnormal sleep patterns and hyper-sexuality. Rabies is spread by biting, and victims of rabies are oftentimes seen frothing with blood at the mouth.


Modern medical science may explain some of Europe’s early vampire folklore. Porphyria, catalepsy, anemia, and rabies are all possible causes of early vampire legends. People of the time who lacked medical knowledge wouldn’t understand some of these diseases and their symptoms. The result may be the vampire folklore that spread throughout Europe in the middle ages.