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The center of Greek learning in the 4 th century, however, was in the city of Alexandria in Egypt. The city was founded by Alexander the great in BC and was ruled by the family of Ptolemy, the general of Alexander. The city became renowned and fabled in antiquity for its treasures of wisdom.
It had a library and a museum, both of which were the envy of the civilized world. The library contained antiquity's most extensive collection of recorded thought. Alexandria held an impressive position in the evolution of medical theory and practice. It was a beacon to learning and discovery. Therein Alexandria, physicians performed human dissection and carried out experimentation to test their hypotheses.
Two of its eminent physicians historically celebrated in medicine were Herophilus c. The teacher of Herophilus was Praxagoras who first used the pulse as a tool for diagnosis and who formulated several theories about the arterial pulse,[ 22 ] one of which was that pulsation only occurs in the arteries, not in the veins.
Herophilus held that the pulse has rhythm as in music and he developed a system for counting the pulse rate. He constructed a portable water clock or clepsydra which contained a specified amount of water. He used this device to count the pulse rate of his patients.
The Pulse in Ancient Medicine Part 1
The other celebrated physician of antiquity was Erasistratus c. It is reported that Galen a second-century Greek physician and philosopher and considered the most important physician after Hippocrates in the ancient world mentioned that Erasistratus came very close to understanding the circulation.
Erasistratus stated that the heart and arteries do not move at the same instant; the arteries dilate while the heart contracts and vice versa. He recognized that the motion of arteries follows the contraction of the myocardium. He correctly observed and explained that dilation of the arteries is a passive expansion of the vessel but incorrectly assumed that this was due to movement of pneuma along the course of the arteries.
The Greeks believed at that time that arteries contained pneuma whereas veins contained blood. It is not, however, explained how the pneuma reaches the heart and arteries. Erasistratus contemporary Herophilus also believed that dilation of the arteries draws in pneuma from the heart and contraction of the arteries moves it forward, and this interplay generates the arterial pulse.
This concept on the pulse was believed by the Greeks to be true until the time of Galen when arteries were discovered to contain blood and air. Galen wrote a treatise on the pulse in the Middle Ages called De Pulsuum Differentiis [ 22 ] and his theories dominated western medical thinking for centuries after his death.
Using the pulse to interpret health is a very old art form. It took humans of years of experimentation and rationalization to arrive at where we are today. The take-home message from an examination of the medical history of pulse taking is that the physician who is well versed in interpreting the nuances of the pulse is perceived as an excellent doctor. Even in this modern age of technology, where the pulse can be assessed accurately and more objectively, taking the pulse of a patient is still valuable and should not be overlooked or forgotten.
Pulse diagnosis is a cherished art.
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National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Journal List Heart Views v. Heart Views. Rachel Hajar , M. Author information Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Address for correspondence: Rachel Hajar, F. E-mail: moc. This is an open access journal, and articles are distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC.
You know that feeling when you meet someone and your heart skips a beat? You can die from that. Open in a separate window.
Shaman or witch doctor or medicine man in ancient cultures. Gilgamesh on the death of his friend Enkidu. A Section of the Papyrus Ebers. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner performing pulse diagnosis. The ancient library of Alexandria. Financial support and sponsorship Nil. Conflicts of interest There are no conflicts of interest. La Barre W. Dalley S, translator. Hajar R. The pulse in antiquity. Ghalioungui P.
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