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Diabetes And Seventeenth-Century Medical Controversy

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Chapter Summary

Diabetes drew the attention of ever more English doctors, notably the Civil War-era medical titans, Thomas Willis and Thomas Sydenham. Thomas Willis was a product of orthodox Galenists at Oxford University, though he made a name for himself as a clinician and chemiatrist. In 1664 Willis published Cerebri anatome, illustrated by Christopher Wren; it contained the first full description of the seventh cranial nerve, the so-called nerve of Willis. Willis perceived that diabetes was a complex disease. Unlike his iatric counterparts, he was reluctant to announce a cure for every ailment that he studied and diabetes truly perplexed him. Medicine in early modern England was riddled with dissension and strife, evident even among credentialed Oxbridge-educated colleagues. Sydenham declared that the diabetics symptom of inordinate urination was related to excretion of non-absorbable chyle and led to another manifestation of the disease, unquenchable dehydration.

Keywords: diabetes; English doctors; Oxford University; Thomas Sydenham; Thomas Willis



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