John Alfred Ryle

John Alfred Ryle (1889–1950) was an English physician and epidemiologist

Physician to Guy’s Hospital, London (1924). In 1935, he was appointed to the Chair of Physic (internal medicine) in Cambridge, but he returned to work in London during the second world war, until 1943 when he was made Professor of Social Medicine, the first such appointment in the UK.

Ryle relinquished one of the largest consulting practices in London to become a pioneer of social and preventive medicine. The Ryle nasogastric tube bears his name

  • Born 1889, Brighton. Third in a family of 10 children, son of Dr RJ Ryle.
  • 1913 – Qualified in medicine, Guy’s hospital, London. Won Gold Medal in medicine.
  • 1914-1918 RAMC WWI, investigated typhoid and trench fever
  • 1924 – Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (FRCP) and elected physician to Guy’s hospital, London
  • 1932-1936 Physician to King George V, his household and then Physician Extraordinary to the King
  • 1935 – Regius chair of physic at Cambridge. Surveyed the hospital on the East Coast from Newcastle to London to determine which locations would serve well as Emergency Hospitals in the event of war.
  • 1943 – First professor of social medicine (epidemiology) at Oxford studying the environmental factors in the production of disease, and in spite of poor health traveled widely
  • Died 1950 of a heart attack

Medical Eponyms
Ryle Tube (1921)

Thin, all rubber nasogastric tube. Ryle made modifications to the brass-tipped nasogastric tube introduced by Max Einhorn (1862–1953) in 1909. It was as a result of his wife’s inability to swallow the larger Einhorn tube that Ryle made his modifications. Ryle recorded experiments performed on himself:

to ascertain (1) the degree of discomfort entailed by swallowing and retaining the gastric tube, and (2) the secretory response to a standard test meal in a healthy subject; on no occasion was any real difficulty experienced in swallowing the tube, and after the first trial no unpleasant symptom of any kind was noted, talking and even mastication not being interfered with.

Ryle 1921; 71: 43

Angor animi (1928)

Ryle coined the phrase to describe “the aura of a nervous storm having its origin in those medullary centres upon which the act of living depends” during his work on vertigo and tumours of the vagus nerve and CNS.  He considered it a ‘medullary aura’, akin to aura’s associated with seizures or migraines. 

What a strange force it is that can stir, and with such intensity, a consciousness of the imminence of an event of which there can never have been any actual experience, and yet is so frequently inoperative when death is at hand.

Ryle JA, 1928; 78: 371-376

Ryle later developed angina in 1942 and described his own experiences of angor animi in 1950, linking the term to a cardiac origin and not only neurogenic phenomena. His son completed the postscript after his death.


Firm advocate of the National Health Service and creating less disparity between consultants and other doctors led to incomprehension and hostility from many of his colleagues

Major Publications



Eponymous terms

eponymictionary CTA


the person behind the name

Emergency physician MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM with a passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

Dr John Mackenzie MBChB FACEM Dip MSM. Staff Specialist Emergency Prince of Wales Hospital; Consultant Hyperbaric Therapy POW HBU. Lead author of Emergency Procedures App | Twitter | Linkedin |

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