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Vol. 52, No. 4, 2004
Issue release date: December 2004
Eur Neurol 2004;52:191–192

Richard Morton: Origins of Anorexia nervosa

Pearce J.M.S.
Emeritus Consultant Neurologist, Department of Neurology, Hull Royal Infirmary, Hull, East Yorks, UK

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Sir William Gull coined the name ‘anorexia nervosa’. Examples of self-starvation appeared in the Hellenistic era. Holy anorexics abused their bodies, rejected marriage and sought religious asylum where many perished and became saints. The condition then paled into obscurity until the 19th century. Louis-Victor Marce (1828–1864) described such a patient in 1859, but Richard Morton is generally credited with the first medical description of anorexia nervosa in 1689. Two neurologists in 1873 separately described anorexia nervosa. Ernest Charles Lasègue, a student friend of Claude Bernard, and a favourite pupil of Trousseau wrote of a refusal of food that may be indefinitely prolonged. Historical precedence is explored and citations included.

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  1. Silverman JA: History of anorexia nervosa; in Brownell KD, Fairburn CJG (eds): Eating Disorders and Obesity. A Comprehensive Handbook. New York, The Guilford Press, 1995, vol 25, pp 141–144.
  2. Morton R: Phthisiologia seu Exercitationes de Phthisi Tribus Libris Comprehensae. 1689. Reprinted. London, Smith & Walford, 1994 (cited in Reda M, Sacco G: Anorexia and the holiness of Saint Catherine of Siena. J Crim Justice Pop Cult 2001;8:37–47).
  3. Munk’s Roll: Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London. London, College of Physicians, 1518–1700, vol 1, pp 398–399.
  4. Lasègue C: De l’anorexie hystérique. Arch Gén Méd 1873;1:384–403.
  5. Gull WW: Anorexia nervosa (apepsia hysterical, anorexia hysteria). Trans Clin Soc Lond 1874;7:22–28.
  6. Simmonds M: Ueber embolische Prozesse in der Hypophysis. Arch Pathol Anat 1914;217:226–239.

    External Resources

  7. Berkman JM: Anorexia nervosa: Anorexia, inanition and low basal metabolic rate. Am J Med Sci 1930;180:411–424.

    External Resources

  8. Charcot JM: Diseases of the Nervous System (transl by Thomas Savill). London, New Sydenham Society, 1889, vol 3, pp 211–214.

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