The widely known post-impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh suffered with poor health and probably psychiatric illness throughout his life. Medical historians have speculated on a wide range of neurological illnesses that Van Gogh may have had, most commonly suggesting temporal lobe epilepsy, bipolar disorder and porphyria. An article by Kalyan Bhattacharyya and Saurabh Rai, however, suggests Meniere’s disease.

Sorrowing Old Man – Vincent Van Gogh, 1890. Perhaps he is suffering from Meniere’s?

What is Meniere’s Disease?

Meniere’s is an infrequent but important cause of severe peripheral vertigo which is easy to overlook. It usually presents unilaterally, but can become bilateral over time. Important clues are ear fullness and tinnitis in the affected ear. Patients may have autonomic symptoms such as flushing, vomiting or sweating. In rare cases, the vertigo can be so sudden and severe that patients experience ‘drop attacks’, and fall abruptly to the floor. Episodes are recurrent, and can last minutes to hours.

Keys to diagnosis include drilling down on the history of ear fullness/unilateral hearing loss, a history of recurrence, and looking for autonomic symptoms.

Key: The diagnosis of Meniere’s is confirmed by serial audiometric testing, showing fluctuating hearing loss.

I’m not convinced by the argument for Van Gogh having Meniere’s disease myself – but as the authors point out, what better disease to explain Vincent Van Gogh famously cutting off his own ear?