On November 29, 1825, French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot was born. Charcot is best known today for his work on hypnosis and hysteria, in particular his work with his hysteria patient Louise Augustine Gleizes. He is also known as “the founder of modern neurology“, and his name has been associated with at least 15 medical eponyms, including Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease and Charcot disease (better known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, motor neurone disease, or Lou Gehrig disease.
Jean-Martin Charcot established a neurology clinic at Salpêtrière, which was the first of its kind in Europe. He studied under Duchenne de Boulogne and became a keen instructor himself. Charcot worked and taught at the famous Salpêtrière Hospital for 33 years.
Charhot mostly became known for his work on neurology. He is credited with the first description of multiple sclerosis. He named the disease sclérose en plaque and the three signs of multiple sclerosis are now known as Charcot’s triad. Charcot was also the first to describe a disorder known as Charcot joint or Charcot arthropathy. This is a degeneration of joint surfaces resulting from loss of proprioception. Charcot further researched the functions of different parts of the brain and the role of arteries in cerebral hemorrhage.
In the field of hypnosis and hysteria, Jean-Martin Charcot is remembered for his work with his patient Louise Augustine Gleizes, who somewhat increased his fame during his lifetime. Initially, Charcot believed that hysteria was a neurological disorder for which patients were pre-disposed by hereditary features of their nervous system. However, towards the end of his life, Charcot concluded that hysteria was a psychological disease.
Charcot discovered two distinct types of hysteria, a minor and a major hysteria. His interest in hysteria and hypnotism “developed at a time when the general public was fascinated in ‘animal magnetism’ and ‘mesmerization'”. Charcot argued vehemently against the widespread medical and popular prejudice that hysteria was rarely found in men, presenting several cases of traumatic male hysteria. Charcot’s analysis, in particular his view of hysteria as an organic condition which could be caused by trauma, paved the way for understanding neurological symptoms arising from industrial-accident or war-related traumas.
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