Scientific article

Empress Sissi and cardiac tamponade: an historical perspective

Published inThe American journal of cardiology, vol. 102, no. 9, p. 1278-1280
Publication date2008

On September 10, 1898, Empress Elizabeth of Austria, known as Sissi, was stabbed with a stiletto knife in her chest by an Italian anarchist in Geneva, Switzerland, and died 1 hour later. The autopsy revealed a large clot in the pericardial sac due to a perforation of the left ventricular wall, and the report concluded, "Death was undoubtedly caused by a progressive and slow blood leak, sufficient to compress the heart and to suspend its functions." Since antiquity, wounds of the heart had been considered immediately fatal, until Paré observed a delayed death after a stab to the heart in the 16th century. The physiology of cardiac tamponade was then elucidated by Richard Lower in 1669. However, it was only in the 19th century that the main clinical features of cardiac tamponade were described and the first treatments attempted. Kussmaul identified its most important clinical hallmark, pulsus paradoxus, in 1873 and the term "tamponade of the heart" was coined for the first time by Rose in 1884. Romero and Larrey pioneered the open drainage of the pericardium early in the century, and Rehn performed the first successful surgical suture of a heart wound in 1896. In conclusion, logistics aside, medical knowledge at the end of the 19th century would have been theoretically sufficient to save the empress from death.

  • Cardiac Tamponade/etiology/history/therapy
  • Female
  • Heart Injuries/complications/history
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pericardial Effusion/complications/history
  • Wounds, Stab/complications/history
Citation (ISO format)
MEYER, Philippe, KELLER, Pierre-Frédéric, SPODICK, David H. Empress Sissi and cardiac tamponade: an historical perspective. In: The American journal of cardiology, 2008, vol. 102, n° 9, p. 1278–1280. doi: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2008.06.057
Main files (1)
Article (Accepted version)
ISSN of the journal0002-9149

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