If arsenic was a well-known poison, why was Napoléon never correctly diagnosed?

That arsenic is poisonous had been known for centuries.  In contrast, they did not know much about the effect of the substance on the body.  There are three levels of arsenic poisoning:

• Acute arsenic poisoning kills in 12 – 18 hours.  It is almost always deadly.
• Sub-lethal arsenic poisoning kills in 2 – 10 days.  It is potentially deadly but does not have to be so.
• Chronic arsenic poisoning I don’t know how long it takes to die from.  I would think it is a matter of years.  If the source of arsenic is found and is removed in time the person may survive.

These tree levels of poisoning give different combinations of symptoms.  However, people recovering from sub-lethal poisoning show symptoms of chronic poisoning.  There is some degree of overlap between the three levels.  But it is not large enough to make it obvious that they are caused by the same substance.  In Napoléon’s time physicians only knew about symptoms of acute arsenic poisoning.  The two other levels they simply did not recognise.

This page was last changed on the 19th of July 2023.