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History of Neurology
April 2004

Stroke in Babylonia

Author Affiliations

From the Institute of Epileptology, King's College, University of London, London (Dr Reynolds), and Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Cambridge, Cambridge (Mr Kinnier Wilson), England.



Arch Neurol. 2004;61(4):597-601. doi:10.1001/archneur.61.4.597

The history of stroke begins with the ancient texts of Greece and Rome, from the Hippocratic writings of the fifth century BC to the doctrines of Galen in the second century AD. We identified and translated 2 Babylonian medical texts concerned with stroke from the British Museum, London, and the Louvre, Paris, France, so we could present and discuss excerpts that illustrate Babylonian accounts of stroke and to discuss a Babylonian literary text that includes reference to a stroke-like condition. The Babylonians recognized the unilateral nature of stroke involving limbs, face, speech, and consciousness, and they distinguished the facial weakness (mouth paralysis) of stroke from the flaccid paralysis of Bell palsy, as it is known in modern terminology. They were aware of the variable prognoses of stroke, from rapid recovery to disability and death. Difficulties were encountered in separating transient strokes from epileptic seizures, as still occurs today. Unlike epilepsy, not all paralysis was viewed as supernatural, and various physical treatments, poultices, and polytherapy were tried to stimulate the paralyzed muscles. There is also a reference to rehabilitation. These studies extend the history of stroke to the first half of the second millennium BC. The Babylonians were keen observers in all branches of medicine but had no concept of pathology in the modern sense.

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