Dropsy

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I would highly recommend the following book for renal fellows everywhere: “Dropsy, Dialysis, Transplant: A Short History of Failing Kidneys“, by Steven Peitzman. I am presently reading it during my trips on the “T” while commuting into Mass General Hospital in the wee hours of the morn.

What is “dropsy”? Dropsy–still used to describe ailments which affect marine animals such as fish or frogs (see left)–was the ancient word for edema, or total body sodium excess. Like the word “edema”, dropsy does not make any distinctions between its many causes: heart failure, cirrhosis, kidney disease, etc. But the British physician Richard Bright (1789-1858) in his landmark autopsy studies noted that a particular subset of patients with dropsy had a characteristic type of scarring of the kidney which was also associated with the appearance of albumin in the urine, which he could detect by placing a flame under a urine specimen. We now know this as “nephrotic syndrome”, even though “Bright’s Disease” is considered by many as the first “named disease” which was named after its discoverer.

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