Bright's disease is a historical classification of kidney diseases that would be described in modern medicine as acute or chronic nephritis. It is typically denoted by the presence of serum albumin (blood plasma protein) in the urine and is frequently accompanied by edema and hypertension.
These common symptoms of kidney disease were first described in 1827 by the English physician Richard Bright. It is now known that the symptoms accompany various morbid kidney conditions. Thus, the term Bright's disease is retained strictly for historical application.
The formation of bilateral kidney stones often indicates underlying chronic kidney disease. These stones involve salt crystal formations such as calcium oxalate. Excess serum calcium can result from hypovitaminosis D, or vitamin D deficiency, that causes the body initially to lose serum calcium to the point where parathyroid hormone is produced to leach sufficient amounts of calcium from the bones, (resulting in bone loss) to more than make up the difference (shutting down parathyroid hormone production). Oxalic acid is found in chocolate, peanuts, certain types of berries, and other foods, and when combined with calcium will form calcium oxalate crystal kidney stones that can drive up blood pressure like any other serum salt, block urinary flow within the kidneys, and cause physical kidney damage and pain. Researchers at Rockefeller University Hospital are studying arteriosclerosis in connection with this vitamin D deficiency, calcium plaque build-up, and kidney problems.
The symptoms are usually severe. Back pain, phantom testicular pain in males, elevated blood pressure, vomiting and fever commonly signal an attack. Edema, varying in degree from slight puffiness of the face to an accumulation of fluid sufficient to distend the whole body, and sometimes severely restricted breathing, is very common. Urine is reduced in quantity, is of dark, smoky or bloody color, and has higher levels of albumin (albuminuria). Under the microscope, blood corpuscles and urinary casts are found in abundance.
This state of acute inflammation may severely limit normal daily activities, and if left unchecked, may lead to one of the chronic forms of Bright's disease. In many cases though, the inflammation is reduced, marked by increased urine output and the gradual disappearance of its albumen and other abnormal by-products. A reduction in edema and a rapid recovery of strength usually follows.
Acute Bright's disease was treated with local depletion (bleeding or blood-letting to reduce blood pressure), warm baths, diuretics, and laxatives. The disease was diagnosed often in diabetic patients. There was no successful treatment for chronic Bright's disease, though dietary modifications were sometimes suggested. See Hay diet, named after William Howard Hay, MD, who suffered from the illness and supposedly cured himself after accepted medical methods of the early 1900s failed to do so. The diet involves promoting alkali and acid balance through consuming various foods and beverages, thereby lowering the kidney's involvement with blood pH balancing. Successful treatment for type II diabetes would reverse elevated glucose and insulin insensitivity problems throughout the body, especially in nerves and kidneys.
In popular culture
Bright's disease was a plot point in one of the early Dr. Kildare films (1945, Between Two Women). Sally (Marie Blake), the hospital switchboard operator, falls ill to a mysterious aliment, and fearing it is cancer, avoids treatment until Dr. "Red" Adams (Van Johnson) correctly diagnoses it and heroically operates on her kidney.
Notable people with Bright's disease
- Robert S. Abbott, founder of the "Chicago Defender" newspaper, died of the disease in 1940.
- Isaac Albéniz, Spanish composer
- Alexander III, Tsar of Russia
- Paul Edward Anderson, weightlifter and "The Strongest Man in the World"
- Chester A. Arthur, 21st President of the United States
- Harry Arundel, professional baseball player
- Abu Bakar of Johor, Sultan of Johor (died 1895)
- Washington Bartlett, Mayor of San Francisco and Governor of California
- H.H. Bennett (1843-1908), photographer, regarded as "the Father of the Dells" (Wisconsin Dells)
- James Gillespie Blaine, U.S. Representative, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, U.S. Senator from Maine, two-time Secretary of State and nominee for president in 1884, developed Bright's disease and died in 1893.
- Madame Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society and author of The Secret Doctrine
- Isambard Kingdom Brunel, British engineer
- Mikhail Bulgakov, Russian author of the novel The Master and Margarita as well as various other novels and plays
- John Bunny, American vaudeville and silent film comedian, 1915
- George-Étienne Cartier, one of the fathers of Canadian Confederation
- Lydia Cassatt, older sister of the artist Mary Cassatt
- Lorne Chabot, professional ice hockey player
- Ty Cobb, Hall of Fame baseball player
- James Creelman, Canadian yellow journalist, died of the disease in February 1915 on his way to cover World War I from the German front
- Louis Cyr, Canadian strongman.
- Marcus Daly, Butte Montana Copper King
- Jessie Bartlett Davis, contralto; mentor of Carrie Jacobs-Bond
- Emily Dickinson, (1830- May 15, 1886) American poet
- Catherine Eddowes, fourth victim of the canonical five murdered by Jack the Ripper in 1888
- Henry Edwards (entomologist)
- Arnold Ehret (1866–1922) a diet reformer, had cured himself of Bright's disease after he had been given up by medical doctors and after a nature cure could bring him only temporary relief. He discovered that fasting and a diet "free of mucus and albumin", consisting mainly of fruits cured not only his illness but other chronic disease.
- Elizabeth F. Ellet (1818–1877), American writer and poet
- Father Frederick William Faber, C.O., (1814-1863) English Catholic priest and noted hymn writer, founder of the Brompton Oratory
- Andrew Hull Foote (1806-1863), Federal naval officer during the American Civil War
- May Agnes Fleming (1840–1880), Canadian-American writer
- Sydney Greenstreet (1879–1954), English actor
- William Gregory (1849-1901), Governor of Rhode Island 1900-1901
- Jean Harlow (1911-1937), American actress and sex-symbol
- Dean Hart, professional wrestler (member of the Hart family)
- Harry T. Hays, Confederate Army general and Louisiana politician
- David B. Hill (1843-1910), American politician and Governor of New York
- Winifred Holtby (1898–1935), English novelist and journalist
- Karl Guthe Jansky (1905-1950), discoverer of radio waves emanating from the Milky Way
- Robert Wood Johnson I (1845-1910), one of the founders of Johnson & Johnson and its first CEO
- David Laʻamea Kamanakapuʻu Mahinulani Nalaiaehuokalani Lumialani Kalākaua (1836-1891), King of Hawaii from 1874 to 1891
- Kitty Kiernan, fiancée of Irish revolutionary leader and chairman of the Provisional Government Michael Collins (all of her five siblings also suffered from the disease)
- Aldo Leopold, environmentalist
- Edmonia Lewis (ca.1844–1907), sculptor.
- H. P. Lovecraft, science-fiction/horror author died from a combination of Bright's disease and intestinal cancer
- Alexander McDonnell (1798–1835), Irish chess master
- Sir Alexander Mackenzie (1764–1820), Scottish explorer, first European to traverse North America and commercial partner in the North West Company
- Rowland Hussey Macy, founder of RH Macy & Company (Macy's department store)
- Richard McBride, Premier of British Columbia (1903-1915) and founder of the British Columbia Conservative Party; died of Bright's disease 6 August 1917 (aged 46) in London, England
- Henry McCrea, captain of the USS Georgia (BB-15), during the time of the explosion in the aft turret, July 15, 1907 and during the first leg of the Great White Fleet sailing
- Jervis McEntee, Hudson River School Painter (1828-1891)
- Abbot Gregor Mendel, O.S.A., friar and scientist whose paper Experiments in Plant Hybridization showed that inheritance follows specific laws. His research led to the science of genetics
- Father Edward McGlynn, Roman Catholic priest and social reformer from New York City, 1900
- John Milne, British seismologist, father of modern seismology, died of Bright's disease.
- Billy Miske, American boxer (1894-1924)
- Elizabeth Mitchell-Smith; first wife of John Cobb (racing driver)
- Helena Modjeska, Polish-American actress, real-estate investor, and philanthropist, 1909
- Commodore Nutt, dwarf who became famous working for P T Barnum
- Chief Ouray, Native American peacemaker, chief of the Ute nation (1833–1880)
- Isaac Parker, "hanging judge" of the American West
- Linus Pauling, chemist and two-time Nobel laureate was successfully treated for a severe form of Bright's disease by Thomas Addis.
- Howard Pyle (March 5, 1853 – November 9, 1911), American illustrator and writer
- Bass Reeves, the first black commissioned United States deputy marshal west of the Mississippi River, 1910
- David Wallis Reeves, composer, cornetist, and bandleader
- Dan Rice, (1823-1900) famous clown, "Great American Humorist", inducted into Clown Hall of Fame in 1993, said to have inspired the character of Uncle Sam.
- Al Ringling, one of the five founders of the Ringling Brothers Circus
- Henry Hobson Richardson, American architect, died of the disease in 1886
- Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt, first wife of Theodore Roosevelt, died of the disease February 14, 1884, shortly after giving birth to TR's daughter, whom he named Alice (Alice Roosevelt Longworth).
- Hannah de Rothschild, Jewish English countess and philanthropist
- Richard Warren Sears, founder of Sears, Roebuck and Company
- Jimmy Sebring, professional baseball player
- Louis Seymour (a.k.a. Adirondack French Louie), guide, trapper and hermit
- Kate Shelley, Irish-American woman famous for crossing a damaged railroad bridge in a storm to save a train full of passengers
- Father Edward Sorin, C.S.C., founder of the University of Notre Dame and St Edward's University
- Effingham Brown Sutton,(1817-1891), Shipping magnate of Clipper ships during California Gold Rush, Sutton Place NYC
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, English Baptist pastor in London, nicknamed "The Prince of Preachers"
- Bram Stoker (1847–1912), writer of Dracula. Died having suffered from Bright's disease and two separate strokes.
- Victor Trumper, Australia's legendary batsman, one of the best "wet wicket" cricketers Australia ever produced, 1915
- George Tyrrell, modernist Roman Catholic priest 
- William Wynn Westcott, Supreme Magus of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia and co-founder of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
- Ellen Wilson, first wife of US President Woodrow Wilson
- Ross Youngs (1897–1927), professional baseball player; Giants outfielder and member of the Baseball Hall of Fame
- Louis Van Zelst, a hunchback who was a mascot for University of Pennsylvania and The Philadelphia Athletics until his death from Bright's disease in 1915
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