Venous thrombosis: The history of knowledge

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Venous thrombosis is a frequent disease. It is surprising, therefore, that no case truly compatible with a diagnosis of venous thrombosis was apparently reported in the antiquity. There is no case that could be reasonably attributed to a venous thrombus in the writings of Hippocrates, Galenus, Celius Aurelianus, Ibn an-Nafiz, Avicenna and others. Venous thrombosis is not among the many diseases mentioned in the Bible. The term "leucophlegmasia", first used by Hippocrates and then by Celius Aurelianus, refers to cases of bilateral leg edema, most likely due to conditions such as heart failure, liver cirrhosis and renal insufficiency. Nothing compatible with a diagnosis of venous thrombosis can be found in pieces of art from ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Persia and South America. While in these sources there are sometimes representations of varicose veins and ulcers, unilateral leg edema or other pictures compatible with venous thrombosis are not featured. The first well documented case of venous thrombosis is depicted in a beautifully illustrated manuscript written in the 13th century and currently preserved in Paris at the Bibliothèque Nationale (MS Fr 2829, Folio 87). The manuscript describes the case of a young man from Normandy named Raoul who at the age of twenty developed unilateral edema in the right ankle that subsequently extended up to the thigh, with no obvious symptoms in the contralateral leg. Raoul was advised to visit the tomb of Saint Louis who was buried in the church of Saint Denis, where the patient spent several days confessing his sins and praying the saint. Afterwards he chose to collect the dust accumulating below the stone that covered the tomb and to apply it on the fistulae and ulcers of his foot. The openings stopped running and were filled with flesh. He was first obliged to use crutches but subsequently he could walk with a cane, to be eventually able to dispose of all devices, even though his foot throbbed a little. Raoul was cured as described above in the year 1271 and was still alive and well in 1282. Not only this is the first case of venous thrombosis, the young age of the patients leads us to suspect that Raoul had a thrombophilic condition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-212
Number of pages4
JournalPathophysiology of Haemostasis and Thrombosis
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • Thrombophilia
  • Venous thrombosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology
  • Physiology (medical)


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