Scipione Riva-Rocci

Born 1863
Died 1937

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Italian internist and pediatrician, born August 7, 1863, Almese, Piedmont; died March 15, 1937, Rapallo, Liguria.

Biography of Scipione Riva-Rocci

Scipione Riva-Rocci graduated in medicine and surgery in 1888 from the University of Torino with the medical doctorate. He then served as assistant lecturer at the propaedeutic medical clinic in Turin directed by Carlo Forlanini (1847-1918) from 1888 to 1898. It was here that he introduced his sphygmomanometer i 1896.

In 1894 he was habilitated for pathology, now also becoming lecturer in special medical pathology, and in 1907 was also habilitated for paediatrics. In 1898 he followed Forlanini - inventor of the technique of artificial pneumothorax for the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis - to the University of Pavia. From 1900 to 1928 he was director and head physician of the Ospedale civico di Varese, and from 1908 to 1921 he also lectured at the Paediatric Clinic of Pavia University, where he introduced the subject.

Riva-Rocci contributed to the development of Forlanini’s method through original physiopathological research. He demonstrated the importance of the eccentric pressure of the pulmonary alveolus as a phthisiogenic factor, and he showed that the respiratory function is not substantially endangered in individuals suffering from a reduction of respiratory lung area, particularly in patients with tuberculosis of the lung during pneumothoracic treatment.

His fundamental contribution (1896) was the mercury sphygmomanometer, which is easy to use and gives sufficiently reliable results. This device, the standard instrument for measuring blood pressure, led to many new developments in the therapy of hypertension disease. Riva-Rocci, however, did not create the first sphygmomanometer, but his ingeniously simple solution offered medical practitioners an efficient method for obtaining relatively accurate readings. The earliest technique for measuring blood pressure was a dangerous and elaborate process requiring the insertion of a hollow tube in the artery of the neck. Introduced i 1733 by Stephen Hales (1677-1761) as a veterinary procedure, the system was not practical for standard medical examinations. It was more than a century later that the first sphygmomanometer was invented by Samuel Siegfried Karl Ritter von Basch (1837-1905). Although it required no surgical incision, the device was inefficient and unwieldy.

A fundamental role in spreading the use of the instrument was played by Harvey Cushing, who helped bring the mercury sphygmomanometer to the attention of the world. On a visit to Pavia in 1901, Harvey Cushing found Riva-Rocci’s sphygmanometer a valuable means of reducing mortality from anaesthesia, especially during intracranial surgery.

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