Leopold Auenbrugger

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Leopold Auenbrugger
Leopold Auenbrugger and his wife Marianne
Born19 November 1722 (1722-11-19)
Died17 May 1809 (1809-05-18) (aged 86)
Known forpercussion (medicine)
Scientific career

Josef Leopold Auenbrugger or Avenbrugger[1] (19 November 1722 – 17 May 1809),[2] also known as Leopold von Auenbrugger,[3] was an Austrian physician who invented percussion as a diagnostic technique. On the strength of this discovery, he is considered one of the founders of modern medicine.[3][2]


Auenbrugger was a native of Graz in Styria, an Austrian province. His father, owner of the inn Zum Schwarzen Mohren, gave his son every opportunity for an excellent preliminary education in his native town and then sent him to Vienna to complete his studies at the university. Auenbrugger was graduated as a physician at the age of 22 and then entered the Spanish Military Hospital of Vienna, where he spent 10 years.[citation needed]

He found out that, by applying his ear to the patient[4] and tapping lightly on the chest, one could assess the density of underlying tissues and organs. This technique of percussive diagnosis had its origins in testing the level of wine casks in the cellar of his father's hotel.[5] With this method, he was able to plot outlines of the heart. [citation needed] It was the first time that a physician could relatively accurately and objectively determine an important sign of diseases. He published his findings in a booklet, but nobody paid much attention to it.[citation needed]

During his ten years of patient study, Auenbrugger confirmed his observations on the diagnostic value of percussion by comparison with post-mortem specimens, and besides made a number of experimental researches on dead bodies. He injected fluid into the pleural cavity, and showed that it was perfectly possible by percussion to tell exactly the limits of the fluid present, and thus to decide when and where efforts should be made for its removal.[citation needed]

His name is also associated with Auenbrugger's sign, a bulging of the epigastric region, in cases of large effusions of the pericardium, the membrane which envelops the heart.[citation needed]

His later studies were devoted to tuberculosis. He pointed out how to detect cavities of the lungs, and how their location and size might be determined by percussion. He also recognized that information with regard to the contents of cavities in the lungs and conditions of lung tissue might be obtained by placing the hand on the chest and noting the vibration, or fremitus, produced by the voice and breath. These observations were published in a little book called Inventum Novum ex Percussione Thoracis Humani Interni Pectoris Morbos Detegendi, the full English title being "A New Discovery that Enables the Physician from the Percussion of the Human Thorax to Detect the Diseases Hidden Within the Chest". It is considered a book that marks an epoch in the modern history of medicine.[3]

Like most medical discoveries, Auenbrugger's method of diagnosis at first met with indifference. Before his death, however, it had aroused the attention of French physician René Laennec, who, following up the ideas suggested by it, discovered auscultation. [citation needed] The value of percussion in physical examination was later recognized by Jean-Nicolas Corvisart, who popularized it teaching it to his students in France, and by Joseph Škoda in Vienna. He also translated and illustrated Auenbrugger's book in 1808, which helped to make Auenbrugger's work on percussion better known.[3]

Auenbrugger lived to the age of 86. He was especially noted for his cordial relations with the younger members of his profession and for his kindness to the poor and to those suffering from tuberculosis. He is sometimes said to have died in the typhus epidemic of 1798, but he actually died over a decade later.[citation needed]

Auenbrugger's daughters, Marianna and Katerina, were composers and Marianna was a pupil of Antonio Salieri.[citation needed]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bedford, D E (1971). "Auenbrugger's contribution to cardiology. History of percussion of the heart". British Heart Journal. 33 (6): 817–21. doi:10.1136/hrt.33.6.817. PMC 458433. PMID 4256273.
  • Bloch, H (1993). "The fathers of percussion". The Journal of Family Practice. 36 (2): 232. PMID 8426145.
  • Fitzwilliams, D C L (1951). "Auenbrugger". Medical World. 73 (22): 522–8. PMID 14805723.
  • Fontanini, F (1986). "[Leopold Auenbrugger and chest percussion]". Giornale Italiano di Cardiologia. 16 (5): 445–6. PMID 3525304.
  • Kukowka, A (1972). "[Leopold Auenbrugger, nobleman of Auenbrugg (1722–1809) inventor of thorax percussion. 250th anniversary]". Zeitschrift für Allgemeinmedizin. 48 (32): 1502–10. PMID 4575935.
  • Landsberger, M (1981). "Percussion discovered". Transactions & Studies of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. 3 (4): 255. PMID 7043816.
  • Lesky, E (1959). "[Leopold Auenbrugger-follower of van Swieten, on the 150th anniversary of the death of Auenbrugger on 18 May 1959.]". Dtsch. Med. Wochenschr. 84 (22): 1017–22. doi:10.1055/s-0028-1113715. PMID 13663616.
  • Logar, I (1950). "[Thoracal auscultation.]". Priroda, Clovek in Zdravje. 5 (4–5): 126–9. PMID 14776111.
  • Menninger-Lerchenthal, E (1953). "[Auenbrugger as a psychiatrist.]". Wiener medizinische Wochenschrift. 103 (51–52): 970–1. PMID 13147211.
  • O'Neal, J C (1998). "Auenbrugger, Corvisart, and the perception of disease". Eighteenth-Century Studies. 31 (4): 473–89. doi:10.1353/ecs.1998.0040. PMID 11623707. S2CID 35900033.
  • Pearce, J M S (2008). "Leopold Auenbrugger: camphor-induced epilepsy – remedy for manic psychosis". Eur. Neurol. 59 (1–2). Switzerland: 105–7. doi:10.1159/000109581. PMID 17934285.
  • Persson, Eddie (2005). "[Mozart's musical physicians]". Läkartidningen. 102 (4): 236–40. PMID 15743135.
  • Rate, R G (1966). "Leopold Auenbrugger and "The Inventum Novum"". The Journal of the Kansas Medical Society. 67 (1): 30–3. PMID 5322113.
  • Rosen, G (1972). "Percussion and nostalgia". Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences. 27 (4): 448–50. doi:10.1093/jhmas/XXVII.4.448. PMID 4563356.
  • Schwartze, D (1972). "[Johann Leopold Auenbrugger. 250th birthday of the inventor of percussion]". Das Deutsche Gesundheitswesen. 27 (50): 2397–9. PMID 4568475.
  • Steudel, Johannes (1970). "Auenbrugger, Jose". Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 332–333. ISBN 0-684-10114-9.
  • "Who follow a gleam. Leopold Auenbrugger". Minnesota Medicine. 53 (4): 386. 1970. PMID 4910362.



  1. ^ "Baynes, T. S., ed. (1878). "Avenbrugger, Leopold" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 3 (9th ed.). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 145.
  2. ^ a b Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Leopold Auenbrugger" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  3. ^ a b c d Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Auenbrugger von Auenbrug, Leopold" . Encyclopedia Americana.
  4. ^ Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Auenbrugger, Leopold von" . New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
  5. ^ Doctors:The History of Medicine through Biography Sherwin B. Nuland

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