origins & discovery
origins & discovery
Dercum’s Disease – also known as Adiposis Dolorosa – was first discovered by prominent American Neurologist, Francis Xavier Dercum, in 1888. At the time, Dr. Dercum was serving as the President of the American Neurological Association, the very forum where he first presented his findings on Adiposis Dolorosa. He then published a report about the disease in the University Medical Magazine later that same year, which can be read here. The name of Adiposis Dolorosa was first proposed in a later publication of case studies published in 1892 (available here), based on its two most prominent features, described by Dr. Dercum as “fatty swelling and pain”.
Dr. Dercum graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1877, and soon became associate professor of histology at the same university in 1878. He was a highly respected and popular teacher and in 1892 he became Professor of Neurology at Jefferson Medical College when he was only 36 years old. Apart from his specialty in Neurology, he also had a great many other interests, including neuropathology, natural history, philosophy, debate, and the study of mental illness. He frequently lectured in practical biology, demonstrating his expertise in various fungi, protozoa, algae, and bacteria. His research and experience provided him a solid understanding of what would later come to be called Bacteriology.
In recognition of his profound contributions to medical science, he received the Legion of Honour from the French government in 1922. His other impressive credentials include tenures as President of both The Philadelphia Neurological Society and The American Philosophical Society, of which he was a member for 35 years. It was there during a meeting of the APS – sitting in the famous “ladder library chair” made by APS founder, Benjamin Franklin – that Dr. Dercum died from a heart attack on April 23, 1931, at the age of 74.
Sadly, despite the fact Dercum’s Disease was discovered over 100 years ago, there is still much that needs to be learned about Dercum’s Disease. Few clinical studies have been performed, resulting in only a handful of peer-reviewed publications. Thankfully some advancements have been made.
Please continue on to our Research section to learn more.