- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Hans Hugo Bruno Selye

Born  1907
Died  1982

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Austrian-Hungarian endocrinologist, born January 26, 1907, Vienna, Austria-Hungary; died October 16, 1982, Montreal, Canada.

Biography of Hans Hugo Bruno Selye

Hans Selye, known as "the father of stress", was the son of dr. Hugo Selye, a Hungarian military physician. His mother was Austrian. He received his basic schooling in Komárno, where his father was stationed during the First World War. He began his studies at the medical faculty in Prague, but during his student time he also visited the universities of Paris and Rome. He graduated from the German University in Prague in 1929 and subsequently obtained a position as assistant to the Institute of Experimental Pathology and the histological laboratory. He held this position until 1931, the year he obtained his Ph.D. That year he received a Rockefeller scholarship and came to Johns Hopkins University, where he began his research in biochemistry and hygienics. In 1932 he settled in his final destinations, Montreal, taking over a lectureship of biochemistry at the Mc Gill University.

Selye became professor of histology in 1941 and from 1945 he was the first director of the Institute of Experimental Medicine and Surgery, Université de Montreal. He held this position until 1976. In 1979, Hans Selye and Alvin Toffler founded the Canadian Institute of Stress.

As early as in 1926, still only in his second year of medical school, Selye began developing his now-famous theory of the influence of stress on people's ability to cope with and adapt to the pressures of injury and disease. He discovered that patients with a variety of ailments manifested many similar symptoms, which he ultimately attributed to their bodies' efforts to respond to the stresses of being ill.

Selye conducted studies on laboratory rats and found that these same physical responses existed with animals when they were put under stress. He concluded that stress plays some role in the development of every disease and that failure to cope with “stressors”, which can be any stimuli, can result in “diseases of adaptation” such as ulcers and high blood pressure. He claimed that it is not stress that harms us but distress.

Selye is the founder of the concept of stress. When he was asked to present a paper in France, it was found that there was no word in French for stress, so they coined one: Le stress. Similarly, when asked to speak in Germany, there was no German word for stress, so it was named Der stress.

Selye held three doctorate was made doctor of honour at several universities in different countries, and received numerous honours (M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc.) and was 43 times a Doctor Honoris Causa.

Selye wrote some 39 books and more than 1,700 articles on stress and related problems.

He was nominated for the Nobel Prize 10 times.

We thank Mylène Lemire for correcting an error.


  • A Syndrome Produced by Diverse Nocuous Agents. Nature, 1936, 138, 32.
  • On the nature of disease.
    Texas Reports on Biology and Medicine, 1954, 2, 390-422.
  • The Stress of life. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1956.
  • Stress without Distress. 1974. A bestseller which appeared in 17 languages.
  • Implications of Stress Concept.
    New York State Journal of Medicine, 1975, 75 (12), 2139-2145.
  • Forty Years of Stress Research: Principal remaining Problems and Misconceptions.
    Canadian Medical Association Journal, 1976, 15 (1), 53-56.
  • The Stress of Life. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978.
  • Selye’s Guide to Stress Research. Volume 1. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1980. Edited by Hans Selye.
  • History and Present Status of the Stress Concept.
    In S. Breznitz and L. Goldberger, editors: Handbook of Stress: Theoretical and Clinical Aspects.
    New York: The Free Press. A division of Macmillan, Inc. 1982, pp 7-20.
  • S. Szabo:
    The Creative and Productive Life of Hans Selye: A Review of His Major Scientific Discoveries. Experientia, Basel, 1985, 41: 564-567.
  • Y. Tache:
    A Tribute to the Pioneering Contributions of Hans Selye: An Appraisal Through His Books. Experientia, Basel, 1985, 41: 567-568.

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