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Medical Terminology Daily (MTD) is a blog sponsored by Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc. as a service to the medical community, medical students, and the medical industry. We will post a workweek daily medical or surgical term, its meaning and usage, as well as biographical notes on anatomists, surgeons, and researchers through the ages. Be warned that some of the images used depict human anatomical specimens.

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A Moment in History

Thomas Willis, MD
Thomas Willis
(1621-1675)

An English physician and anatomist, Willis was born on his parents' farm in Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire, where his father held the stewardship of the Manor. He was a kinsman of the Willys baronets of Fen Ditton, Cambridgeshire. He graduated M.A. from Christ Church, Oxford in 1642. In the Civil War years he was a royalist, and was dispossessed of the family farm at North Hinksey by Parliamentary forces. In the 1640's Willis was one of the royal physicians to Charles I of England. He obtained his medical degree in 1646.

Thomas Willis might well be one of the greatest physicians of the 17th century.He is one of the founders of the Royal Society of London. He is remembered by his many publications, especially "Cerebri Anatome: Cui accessit Nervorum Descriptio et Usu", where he describes the arterial anastomoses at the base of the brain. This work is also the first detailed description of the vasculature of the brain. Willis described nine cranial nerves.

He is considered as the father of Neurology as a discipline. He used the term "neurology" for the first time in 1664. He described several neurological conditions

The Arterial Circle of Willis is a famous eponymous structure found at the base of the brain. It represents an anastomotic roundabout that connects the right and left sides as well as the carotid and vertebral arterial territories that supply the brain. Named after Thomas Willis, this structure was known well before him, but it was Willis who described its function.  If you click on the image or here, you will be redirected to a detailed description of this structure.

Sources:

1. "The legendary contributions of Thomas Willis (1621-1675): the arterial circle and beyond" Rengachary SS et al J Neurosurg. 2008 Oct;109(4):765-75
2. "Thomas Willis, a pioneer in translational research in anatomy (on the 350th anniversary of Cerebri anatome)" Arraez-AybarJournal of Anatomy, 03/2015, Volume 226, Issue 3
3. " The naming of the cranial nerves: A historical review" Davis, M Clinical Anatomy, 01/2014, Volume 27, Issue 1
4. "Observations on the history of the circle of Willis". Meyer A, Hieros, R.Med Hist 6:119–130, 1962


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The seven hiatuses (openings) of the respiratory diaphragm

The term [hiatus] derives from the Latin word [hiare], meaning to "gape" or to "yawn". In human anatomy this term is used to mean an "opening" or a "defect". It must be pointed out that in anatomy (and surgery) the term "defect" does not necessarily mean "defective". In most cases a "defect" is a normal opening in a structure, such as the esophageal hiatus. The plural form is either [hiatus] or [hiatuses].

In the case of the respiratory diaphragm, there are seven such openings, seven normal hiatuses. On top of this, you can find an abnormal opening caused by incomplete congenital closure of the dome of the diaphragm, a congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), also known as Bochdalek's hernia, found in the posterior aspect of the respiratory diaphragm.

The seven hiatuses of the respiratory diaphragm are:

• Esphageal hiatus

• Aortic hiatus

• Inferior vena cava hiatus

Respiratory diaphragm (www.bartleby.com)
Images and links courtesy of Bartleby.com
• Hiatuses (2) for the superior epigastric vessels, which are the inferior continuation of the internal thoracic (mammary) vessels. Also known as the hiatuses of Morgagni. A hernia in a newborn through this hiatus is also considered a CDH.

• Hiatuses (2) for the splanchnic nerves

Based on the above it is wrong (maybe not wrong, but incomplete) to say that a patient has a "hiatal hernia", as the term does not include which hiatus is involved. In fact the hernia of Morgagni is also a "hiatal hernia" as the hernia passes through a normal defect in the respiratory diaphragm. Come to think of it, it could also be a hernia in a hiatus somewhere else in the body, such as a hernia of Schwalbe, a type or pelvic diaphragm hernia.

Note: Thanks to DHREAMS of the Columbia University Medical Center for the link on CDH.