Rudolf Ludwig Karl Virchow: pathologist, physician, anthropologist, and politician

Implications of his work for the understanding of cerebrovascular pathology and stroke

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✓ The history of apoplexy and descriptions of stroke symptoms date back to ancient times. It was not until the mid-nineteenth century, however, that the contributions of Rudolf Ludwig Karl Virchow, including his descriptions of the phenomena he called “embolism” and “thrombosis” as well as the origins of ischemia, changed the understanding of stroke. He suggested three main factors that conduce to venous thrombosis, which are now known as the Virchow triad. He also showed that portions of what he called a “thrombus” could detach and form an “embolus.” Thus, Virchow coined these terms to describe the pathogenesis of the disorder. It was also not until 1863 that Virchow recognized and differentiated almost all of the common types of intracranial malformations: telangiectatic venous malformations, arterial malformations, arteriovenous malformations, cystic angiomas (possibly what are now called hemangioblastomas), and transitional types of these lesions. This article is a review of the contributions of Rudolf Virchow to the current understanding of cerebrovascular pathology, and a summary of the life of this extraordinary personality in his many roles as physician, pathologist, anthropologist, ethnologist, and politician.

✓ The history of apoplexy and descriptions of stroke symptoms date back to ancient times. It was not until the mid-nineteenth century, however, that the contributions of Rudolf Ludwig Karl Virchow, including his descriptions of the phenomena he called “embolism” and “thrombosis” as well as the origins of ischemia, changed the understanding of stroke. He suggested three main factors that conduce to venous thrombosis, which are now known as the Virchow triad. He also showed that portions of what he called a “thrombus” could detach and form an “embolus.” Thus, Virchow coined these terms to describe the pathogenesis of the disorder. It was also not until 1863 that Virchow recognized and differentiated almost all of the common types of intracranial malformations: telangiectatic venous malformations, arterial malformations, arteriovenous malformations, cystic angiomas (possibly what are now called hemangioblastomas), and transitional types of these lesions. This article is a review of the contributions of Rudolf Virchow to the current understanding of cerebrovascular pathology, and a summary of the life of this extraordinary personality in his many roles as physician, pathologist, anthropologist, ethnologist, and politician.

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Address reprint requests to: Mark C. Preul, M.D, c/o Neuroscience Publications, Barrow Neurological Institute, 350 West Thomas Road, Phoenix, Arizona 85013. email: neuropub@chw.edu.

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