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Porphyria is a term used to describe a variety of blood disorders related to the iron-rich molecule found in hemoglobin (heme). Heme carries oxygen to the body, so when it is not produced correctly, porphyrins can build up in the body, which can lead to porphyria.

There are many types of porphyria, but there are two main categories- acute and cutaneous. Both types are lifelong conditions that can range from mild to severe symptoms that can be triggered by a variety of factors, to include sunlight, hormonal changes, and alcohol consumption.

  • Acute porphyria affects the nervous system, causing abdominal pain, numbness, cramping, vomiting, and mental disorders.
  • Cutaneous porphyrias affect the skin, causing blisters and swelling when exposed to sun.

Cutaneous porphyria resembles vampirism in regards to the physical effects of sun on a vampire.

Because the body cannot break down the heme in the blood, the body deposits the toxin on the skin, gums, and teeth. As the condition worsens, the skin may blacken, blister, and rupture when exposed to sunlight.

The disease has been around since the beginning of time, and it’s said that a remedy for the pain and anemia caused by porphyria, people would once drink animal blood. And, since the those who suffered the disease could not go out in the daytime, they would go out at night to capture animals and drink their blood, furthering correlation between the porphyria disease and vampirism.

Another well-known part of vampire lore is that a vampire cannot see its reflection in a mirror. Well, people who suffer from porphyria may avoid looking into mirrors due to the effects of sunlight on their face. It was not uncommon for those with those who suffer advanced and severe stages to have the tips of their lips, noses, and ears eaten off. Then, without the lips, the face may have a hideous expression.