Riva-Rocci, Scipione

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(b. Almese, Piedmont, Italy, 7 August 1863; d. Rapallo, Liguria, Italy, 15 March 1937) medicine.

After graduating in medicine and surgery in 1888 from the University of Turin, Riva-Rocci became assistant lecturer at the Propaedeutic Medical Clinic in Turin directed by Carlo Forlanini. In 1894 he became lecturer in special medical pathology, and in 1898 he followed Forlanini to the University of Pavia. From 1900 to 1928 he was director and head physician of the Ospedale di Varese, and from 1908 to 1921 he also lectured at the Pediatric Clinic of Pavia University, where he introduced the subject. A typical representative of the mechanically based clinical approach successfully advocated by Forlanini, inventor of the technique of artificial pneumothorax for the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis, contributed to the development of this 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. A fundamental role in spreading the use of the instrument was played by Harvey Cushing, who on a visit to Pavia in 1901, found Riva-Rocci’s sphygmomanometer a valuable means of reducing mortality from anesthesia, especially during intracranial surgery. The main feature of the instrument is the pneumatic armband which, by distributing compression uniformly around the arm, eliminates the pressural hyperelevation obtained with previous apparatus, which exerted compression only on the artery. In addition, pressure is measured on the humeral artery, which, compared with more distal arteries, better reflects pressure conditions at the level of the aorta and is less subject to other disturbing factors.


I. Original Works. Riva-Rocci’s main publication was “Un nuovo sfigmomanometro,” Gazzetta medica di Torino, 47 (1896), 981–996, 1001–1017; a partial trans. is in Arthur Ruskin, Classics in Arterial Hypertension (Springfield, III., 1956), 103–125.

II. Secondary Literature. See Luigi Belloni, “Gli inizi della sfigmomanometria clinica,” in Symposium Ciba, 3 (1955), 56–57 (only in the Italian and Spanish ed.); and “Scipione Riva-Rocci e il suo sfigmomanometro (1896),” in Simposi clinici, 10 (1973), i–viii; Enrico Benassi, “Scipione Riva-Rocci,” in Minerva medica, 54 (1963), 3766–3771; John F. Fulton, Harvey Cushing, A Biography (Springfield, III., 1946), 212; and Luigi Ponticaccia, “La vita e l’opera di Scipione Riva-Rocci,” in Bollettino della Società medico-chiruigica della provincia di Varese, 14 (1959), 7–21, with a bibliographical note on Riva-Rocci’s works.

Luigi Belloni