Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

William Heberden on angina pectoris, 1772

“There is a disorder of the breast marked with strong and peculiar symptoms, considerable for the kind of danger belonging to it, and not extremely rare . . .

The seat of it and the sense of strangling and anxiety with which it is attended, may make it not improperly be called angina pectoris.

Those who are afflicted with it, are seized while they are walking (more especially if it be uphill, and soon after eating) with a painful and most disagreeable sensation in the breast, which seems as if it would extinguish life if it were to increase or to continue; but the moment they stand still, all this uneasiness vanishes. In all other respects, the patients are, at the beginning of this disorder, perfectly well, and in particular have no shortness of breath, from which it is totally different . . .

The pain is sometimes situated in the upper part, sometimes in the middle, sometimes in the bottom of the os. sterni, and often more inclined to the left than to the right side. It likewise very frequently extends from the breast to the middle of the left arm . . .

Males are more liable to this disorder, especially such as have past their fiftieth year . . . After it has continued a year or more, it will not cease so instantaneously upon standing still; and it will come on not only when the persons are walking, but when they are lying down . . .

I have seen nearly a hundred people under this disorder . . . [mainly] . . . men near or past the fiftieth year of their age . . .

The termination of the angina pectoris is remarkable. For if no accident interferes, but the disease goes on to its height, the patients all suddenly fall down, and perish almost immediately.”

Abstracted from Heberden, W. 1772. Some account of a disorder of the breast. In: Medical Transactions, vol. 2, 59-67. The Royal College of Physicians of London.

Winter 2019



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