Monday, February 8, 2016

Simmonds Disease

Ruby James Graham was the second wife of my second cousin once removed, Wallace Edward Dawson. Wallace married Ruby on 11 May 1940 in Lynchburg, Virginia. She was the daughter of Roosevelt T. Graham and Thelma G. Moon. The couple were married 13 years before Ruby died at the age of 33 on 19 July 1953 at the Lynchburg General Hospital. The cause of death was malnutrition and the contributing cause of death was Simmonds Disease of which I had never heard.

Ruby James (Graham) Dawson death certificate; image courtesy of

I learned that Simmonds disease is extreme and progressive emaciation, loss of body hair, and premature aging caused by atrophy or destruction of the anterior lobe of the pituitary. It is also called hypophyseal cachexia, pituitary cachexia.

The first known report of Simmonds disease was made by German physician Dr. Morris Simmonds. According to Wikipedia, "He described the condition on autopsy in a 46-year-old woman who had suffered severe puerperal fever (postpartum infections) eleven years earlier, and subsequently suffered amenorrhea, weakness, signs of rapid aging and anemia." By the early 21st century doctors had no problems recognizing the disease.

A study conducted in Spain measured the prevalence of Simmonds Disease and concluded that 45.5 out of 100,000 people had been diagnosed, with 4.2 new cases per year. Most often the disease was a result of pituitary gland tumors or other types of lesions. More recently, studies show that people who have suffered from traumatic brain injury or brain hemorrhages or had radiation therapy in the cranial region are more likely to experience persistent pituitary hormone deficiencies.

Simmonds Disease is a permanent condition; it cannot be cured, only managed. And it must be managed for a lifetime. Today sufferers may experience a normal lifespan something not available to Ruby in 1953.

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