Josef Leopold Auenbrugger von Auenbrugg (1722 – 1809) was an Austrian Physician credited with describing the effectiveness of chest percussion in the diagnosis of respiratory disease.
Auenbrugger described camphor-induced seizures as a remedy for manic psychosis and suicidal thought.
Eponyms: Auenbrugger Sign – bulging of the epigastrium in cases of extensive pericardial effusion. Auenbrugger Osteophony/Bone Sign (more commonly Heuter sign)
- Born in Graz, Austria on 19th November 1722
- 1752 – Physician at the Spanish Military Hospital, Vienna
- 1754 – Defined and described ‘percussion‘ of the chest to define pleural effusions.
- 1779 – Wrote the libretto to Antonio Salieri’s three-act opera, The Chimney Sweep (‘Der Rauchfangkehrer’), first performed in the Burgtheater in Vienna in April 1781
- 1780 – Haydn composed the six Auenbrugger keyboard Sonatas for the Auenbrugger’s talented musical daughters (Marianna and Caterina) in 1780
- 1783 – Knighted for services to medicine by Emporer Joseph II
- 1790 – Physician to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Vienna
- Died in Vienna on 18th May 1809
- Auenbrugger sign is defined as a ‘bulging’ of the epigastrium (epigastric region) in patients with large pericardial effusion.
- Auenbrugger Bone sign (Heuter sign) may be used to define the presence of upper limb fracture or dislocation via osteophony.
Key Medical Attributions
Described chest percussion to diagnose chest conditions. The son of an innkeeper, Auenbrugger is said to have tapped wine barrels in his father’s cellar as a boy to find out how full they were.
Auenbrugger validated his clinical observations on the use of diagnostic percussion by comparing clinical assessments with post-mortem findings and injecting fluid into the pleural cavity of cadavers to demonstrate that percussion could accurately define the physical limits of any fluid present.
Unfortunately his work was largely unheralded at the time. His teacher (Van Swieten) in 1764 and 1772 major treatises on ‘pulmonary chills and chest water’ failed to mention Auenbrugger. Similarly De Haen, who was the head of the medical clinic in Vienna from 1754-1776 makes no comment on percussion in “Ratio Medendi In Nosocomio Practico Vol I to VIII” ironically complaining “how dark and difficult is the diagnosis of the thoracic water, the pleuritic and pericardian exudates.
“I have not been unconscious of the dangers I must encounter, since it has always been the fate of those who have illustrated or improved the arts and sciences by their discovery, to be beset by envy, malice, hatred, detraction, and calumny.” – Auenbrugger 1807
It was not until a French translation by Jean-Nicolas Corvisart des Marest, personal physician to Napoleon, appeared in 1808 that the diagnostic method gained worldwide acceptance. Corvisart taught the method of percussion to his students and in 1808 translated and published the book with annotations a year before Auenbrugger’s death
Italian physician Giovanni Maria Lances (1654-1720), first described percussion of the chest bone in the diagnosis of consumption (tuberculosis)
- 1761 – Auenbrugger, L. Inventum Novum ex percussione thoracis humani ut signo abstrusos interni pectoris morbos detegendi. (Discovered a new signal from a blow to the chest of the human heart to discover hidden internal illness) [Translated Archive Text] [Original Latin Text]
- 1763 – Auenbrugger, L. Von der stillen Wuth oder dem Triebe zum Selbstmorde als einer wirklichen Krankheit, mit Original-Beobachtungen und Anmerkungen. (From silent rage or impulse to suicide as a real disease). . [German archive text]
- 1763 – Auenbrugger, L. Experimentum nascens de remedio specifico sub signo specifico in mania virorum
- 1808 – Auenbrugger, L. Neue Erfindung mittels des Anschlagens an den Brustkorb, als eines Zeichens, verborgene Brust-Krankheiten zu entdecken. [French Archive Text]
- Corvisart des Marets, J.N. Nouvelle méthode pour reconnaitre les maladies internes de la poitrine par la percussion de cette cavité. [New method to recognize the internal diseases of the chest by the percussion of this cavity] 1808.
- Clar. Leopold Auenbrugger, der Erfinder der Percussion des Brustkorbes [Leopold Auenbrugger, the inventor of the percussion of the chest] 1867
- White FA. Physical Signs in Medicine and Surgery Xlibris 2009 pp317-331
- Juhn B. Auenbrugger’s sign. Wien Med Wochenschr. 1961;111:259. [PMID 13790980]
- Bedford DE. Auenbrugger’s contribution to cardiology – History of percussion of the heart. Br Heart J. 1971 Nov; 33(6): 817–821. [PMC458433]
- Simth JJ. The Inventum Novum of Joseph Leopold Auenbrugger. Bull N Y Acad Med. 1962 Oct; 38(10): 691–701. [PMC1804850]
- Dock G. Leopold Auenbrugger’s Neue Erfindung Mittels des Anschlagens an den Brustkorb [Leopold Auenbrugger and the history of percussion] 1898.
- Lachmund J. ‘Between Scrutiny and Treatment: Physical Diagnosis and the Restructuring of 19th Century Medical Practice’, Sociology of Health and Illness, 20/6 (1998), pp 779-801
- Pearce JM. Leopold Auenbrugger: camphor-induced epilepsy – remedy for manic psychosis. Eur Neurol. 2008;59(1-2):105-7. [PMID: 17934285]
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