Bright's disease is a historical classification of kidney diseases that would be described in modern medicine as acute or chronic nephritis. The term is no longer used, as diseases are now classified according to their more fully understood etiologies.
It is typically denoted by the presence of serum albumin (blood plasma) in the urine, and frequently accompanied by edema (tissue particulate).
These associated symptoms in connection with kidney disease were first described in 1827 by noted English physician Richard Bright. Since that time, it has been established that the symptoms, instead of being, as was formerly supposed, the result of one form of disease of the kidneys, may be dependent on various morbid conditions of those organs. Thus, the term Bright's disease, which is retained in medical nomenclature in honor of Dr. Bright, must be understood as having a strictly historical application.
The symptoms are usually of a severe nature. Back pain, 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 restrict breathing, is a very common ailment. The urine is reduced in quantity, is of dark, smoky or bloody color, and exhibits to chemical reaction the presence of a large amount of albumin, while, under the microscope, blood corpuscles and casts, as above mentioned, 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, warm baths, diuretics, and laxatives. There was no successful treatment for chronic Bright's disease, though dietary modifications were sometimes suggested.
Well-known victims of Bright's Disease
- Union Army General Francis C. Barlow who fought in the American Civil War died from Bright's Disease later in life.
- One of the best-known people to die from Bright's Disease was poet Emily Dickinson, who died on May 15, 1886.
- William Hammerstein, Victoria Theatre vaudeville manager and father of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, died in 1914 at the age of 39.
- Colonel Prentiss Ingraham (born December 28, 1843), soldier, author, and writer of over 600 dime novels, died of Bright's Disease at Beauvoir Confederate Home on August 16, 1904. Called "King of the Dime Novelists," he's best known for his Buffalo Bill stories, and is credited with playing a significant role in creating the popular image of the American "Wild West."
- George-Étienne Cartier also died from Bright's Disease, but not before he rashly promised British Columbia a railway if it entered confederation with the Dominion of Canada.
- Scottish/Canadian explorer Sir Alexander MacKenzie, whose accomplishments included the first transcontinental crossing of North America north of Mexico and the discovery of the MacKenzie River, died of the disease in 1820.
- Larry Corcoran, a Chicago White Stockings (the modern day Chicago Cubs) hurler in the early 1880s and Hall of Famer Ross Youngs died from Bright's disease.
- Father Edward McGlynn, Roman Catholic priest and social reformer from New York City, died of Bright's disease in 1900.
- Former NHL goaltender Lorne Chabot stuggled with the disease after his retirement before dying from it in 1946.
- Bass Reeves, the first black commissioned United States deputy marshal west of the Mississippi River, died of Bright's disease in 1910.
- Charles Spurgeon English Baptist pastor nicknamed "The Prince of Preachers"
- Billy Miske, the prominent middle, lightheavy and heavyweight boxer, who twice fought Jack Dempsey died from the disease in 1924.
- Kitty Kiernan, fiancée of assassinated Irish revolutionary leader and Chairman of the Provisional Government Michael Collins, also died from Bright's Disease.
- The 21st President of the United States, Chester Arthur, and the first wives of U.S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, Alice Lee Roosevelt and Ellen Wilson, were Bright's victims as well as Florence Harding, wife of Warren G. Harding.
- One-time prominent brewer, George Ruder, president and founder of the George Ruder Brewing Co., co-founder of the Mathie-Ruder Brewing Company, and founder of what is now Point Brewery in Steven's Point, Wisconsin, died of Bright's Disease on December 29, 1894.
- The chemist and two time Nobel laureate Linus Pauling was successfully treated for a severe form of Bright's disease by Thomas Addis.
- Charles Ranhofer, famous chef at New York restaurant Delmonico's died of Bright's disease in 1899.
- Australia's legendary batsman, Victor Trumper, died of Bright's Disease at the age of 37. Before Donald Bradman came along, Trumper was considered the finest Australian batsman, and was certainly the most popular. His funeral was attended by a crowd of 250,000.
- Powerful Tennessee Congressman Walter P. Brownlow died of Bright's Disease in 1910.
- Winifred Holtby, author of South Riding was a victim of this disease
- Science-fiction/horror author H. P. Lovecraft died from a combination of Bright's Disease and intestinal cancer.
- Father F.W. Faber ( who wrote the hymn 'Faith of Our Fathers')
- Vaudeville and silent film comedian, John Bunny, died of Bright's Disease in 1915 at the age of 51. Many of the 300-lb. actor's movies are lost to time, but his popularity and skill are apparent from his surviving films and varied work schedule in the US and Europe.
- Lawyer, politician and Union general Francis C. Barlow died of Bright's Disease in 1896.
- Father Edward Sorin, founder of the University of Notre Dame, died of Bright's Disease in October, 1893.
- Movie star Sydney Greenstreet. In eight years he made 24 films, all while beset by diabetes and Bright's disease. He died in 1954, five years after retiring from films.
- Baseball player and manager Pat Moran died of Bright's Disease at the age of 48 during spring training, March 7, 1924. Moran was manager of the Cincinnati Reds when they won the 1919 World Series over the Chicago White Sox. In her book Red Legs and Black Sox: Edd Roush and the Untold Story of the 1919 World Series author Susan Dellinger claimed that Moran's kidney ailment was Bright's Disease caused by consumption of prohibition era alcohol.
- Judge Isaac Parker, the "Hanging Judge" of Fort Smith, Arkansas, portrayed as Judge Adam Fenton in the Clint Eastwood film Hang 'Em High (1968) suffered from Bright's Disease in his later years while still presiding over the court having jurisdiction over the Indian Territory, later known as Oklahoma.
- Mikhail Bulgakov, the twentieth-century Russian author of the classic novel The Master and Margarita, as well as various other novels and plays, died of Bright's Disease.
- Robert Sengstacke Abbott, founder of the Chicago Defender, one of the first black daily newspapers, died from Bright's disease in 1940.
- Robert Wood Johnson I, a co-founder of Johnson & Johnson.
- Charles Yerkes, American engineer-financier, of the Underground Electric Railways Ltd.
- Richard Warren Sears founder of Sears, Roebuck and Company.
- Catharine Eddowes, victim of famous London murderer Jack the Ripper.
- Czech composer Antonín Dvořák died of Bright's Disease in 1902 in Prague.
- Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz
- James Creelman, renowned yellow journalist, died of the disease in February 1915 on his way to cover World War I from the German front.
- World renowned strongmen Louis Cyr and Paul Anderson suffered from Bright's Disease.
- Henry Chapman Mercer, a famous tile-maker, archeologist, and collector from Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
- In one of her many books Princess Catherine Radziwill claims that Tsar Alexander III of Russia died of Bright's Disease.
- Seabury Tredwell, prominent New York City hardware merchant in the 19th Century, died of Bright's Disease on March 7, 1865 at the age of 85. His home at 29 East 4th Street is now the Merchants House Museum.
- Elizabeth F. Ellet (1818-1877), American writer and poet
- Rev. Dr. Joseph Charles Price Founder and first President of Livingstone College. Noted as one of the greatest speakers of our time.(D.O.B Feb 10, 1854 died of Bright's Disease October 25, 1893)
- Alice Roosevelt, first wife of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, who died shortly after giving birth to the couple's only child.
- Henry Hobson Richardson, influential American architect, died of the disease in 1886 at age 48.
- Victor Trumper, Australian cricketer and test batsman.