The deafness of Ludwig van Beethoven: an immunopathy

Otol Neurotol. 2005 Jul;26(4):809-14. doi: 10.1097/01.mao.0000178149.36881.df.


Objective: To analyze and discuss the deafness of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) and to offer a logical theory for its etiology.

Method: The study will carefully review the composer's symptoms as described in his letters to friends and acquaintances and also will review a large body of source material, particularly publications by his contemporaries, some of which were generously loaned by Beethoven-Haus, Bonn, Germany, where necessary translations were made directly from the original German. We will also study publications on Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and its associated extraintestinal manifestations and personal discussions with experienced gastroenterologists.

Results: Beethoven's abdominal symptoms that began in his teens are highly suggestive of IBD, which we believe to be a correct diagnosis. IBD is an umbrella term that includes a number of named entities such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's Disease. IBD is now considered to be a problem of immune regulation with extra intestinal manifestations that include sensorineural hearing loss and primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). PSC eventually causes cirrhosis and failure of the liver. A diagnosis of IBD therefore provides a single entity that explains most of the composer's symptoms and was finally the cause of his death. Our conclusion is that Beethoven's sensorineural hearing loss was an immunopathy associated with IBD.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Deafness / history*
  • Deafness / immunology
  • Famous Persons*
  • Germany
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Immune System Diseases / etiology
  • Immune System Diseases / history*
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / complications
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / history*
  • Male
  • Music / history*

Personal name as subject

  • Ludwig Van Beethoven