King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
Parkinson of the disease

Sanders and Reynolds on paralysis agitans

Opening showing part of the article by Sanders in which the term Parkinson’s disease was coinedOpening showing part of the article by Sanders in which the term Parkinson’s disease was coinedThe clinician William Russell Sanders (1828-81) graduated from Edinburgh and later studied in Paris and Heidelberg. He coined the term ‘Parkinson’s disease’ in 1865, in an article in the Edinburgh medical journal, to distinguish the condition from what he took to be variants of it.

This paper concerned a young man who had sustained a back injury from two falls, and who had developed oscillating movements in every part of his body except for his face. He was quiet and motionless when at rest or asleep, and showed no weakness or tendency to totter forwards.

For these reasons, Sanders did not believe that he suffered from paralysis agitans as described by Parkinson. But Sanders argued that it would be:

…useful to reserve for Parkinson’s disease the specific name of paralysis agitans festinia, or senilis, or Parkinsonii,  and thus leave us free to extend the general name of paralysis agitans to other causes occurring at various ages, and not attended by the irresistible urge to move forwards …

Opening showing Sanders use of the term: Parkinson’s diseaseOpening showing Sanders use of the term: Parkinson’s diseaseSanders’s later chapter in John R Reynolds’ textbook, A system of medicine (1868) is one of the finest expositions of the mid-19th century medical understanding of the condition.

In this treatise, part of which is reproduced to the right, he used the term ‘Parkinson’s disease’ here on three occasions. He argued that the term should be reserved for older people with the very specific combination of tremor and gait which the Essay had elaborated.

The French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot cited Sanders's work in the second edition of the Leçons sur les maladies du système nerveux (1875), in which he himself first adopted the term ‘la maladie de Parkinson’ without crediting Sanders for the original coinage.

The first image on this page is shown courtesy of the Royal Society of Medicine Library.

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