John Cheyne (1777 – 1836)

John Cheyne (1777-1836) was a Scottish surgeon and physician.

Cheyne was tutored at the University of Edinburgh by Alexander Monro secundus (1733-1817), who described the interventricular foramen

In 1812 Cheyne distinguished subarachnoid haemorrhage from intracerebral haemorrhage, and provided one of the first illustrations of subarachnoid haemorrhage.

In 1818 he described aorta steatomatous and wrote extensively on laryngotracheitis and hydrocephalus in children. Eponymously affiliated with Cheyne-Stokes Respiration (1818)

Cheyne suffered from depression towards the end of his life and wrote ‘Essays on the parital derangement of the mind’ as a therapeutic exercise

  • Born February 3, 1777 Leith, Scotland
  • 1790-1792: As the son of a surgeon, Cheyne assisted his father from the age of 13 with dressing and bleeding patients
  • 1792-1795: Cheyne commenced medical studies at the University of Edinburgh at the age of 15. He graduated as a doctor at age 18.
  • 1795: After graduating, Cheyne served with the military as a surgeon in the Artillery Corps in Woolwich
  • 1798: Served at the Battle of Vinegar Hill
  • 1799: Left the military and returned to Scotland to join his father’s practice at Ordinance Hospital in Leath
  • 1801: Studied pathology and dissection and together with Charles Bell published Essays of Diseases of Children
  • 1804: Married Sarah Macartney
  • 1809: Left Scotland and moved to Dublin, Ireland
  • 1811-1817: Worked as a physician at Meath Hospital, Dublin
  • 1813-1819: Appointed professor of medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. Here he also taught war medicine
  • 1818: Described Cheyne-Stokes breathing in the Dublin Hospital Reports article: A case of apoplexy in which the fleshy part of the heart was converted into fat
  • 1820: Became the Physician General to British forces in Ireland. This was the highest medical rank in Ireland
  • 1825: Developed depression following the death of a close friend
  • 1831: Due to ongoing ill health, Cheyne retired to his estate in Buckinghamshire, England
  • Died January 31, 1836, Buckinghamshire, England. His work on mental disorders was published posthumously in 1843: Essays on the parital derangement of the mind in supposed connexion with religion

Medical Eponyms
Cheyne-Stokes Respiration (1818)

Cheyne-Stokes respiration describes a pattern of breathing seen in patients at the end stages of illness. It is characterised by repeated cycles of apnoea followed by hyperventilation.

Hippocrates first described Cheyne-Stokes breathing over two millennia earlier in book 1 of his Fourteen Cases of Disease. He describes his treatment of Philiscus, a patient unwell with a fever. By his 6th day of illness, Hippocrates makes the following observation about the patient’s breathing: “Respiration throughout like that of a man recollecting himself, and rare, and large”.

John Cheyne then further characterised this pattern of breathing in 1818 in an article he published in the Dublin Hospital Reports. Here he comments on the final days of a patient he treated with apoplexy and the abnormal breathing pattern he noticed.

The only peculiarity in the last days if his illness which lasted nine days, was in the state of the respiration: For several days his breathing was irregular; it would entirely cease for a quarter of a minute, then it would become perceptible, though very low, then by degrees it became heaving and quick, and then it would gradually cease again: this revolution in the state of his breathing occupied about a minute, during which there were about thirty acts of respiration.

Cheyne J. A case of apoplexy in which the fleshy part of the heart was converted into fat. Dublin Hospital Reports. 1818;2:216-223.

In the same article, Cheyne makes reference to another patient in whom he noticed this pattern of breathing however he was not able to witness the autopsy and so makes no further comment.

Major Publications



Eponymous terms


the person behind the name

BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  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 |

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