Scipione Riva-Rocci (1863-1937) was educated in Turin as a physician and later as a doctor of internal medicine. In 1896 and 1897 he published a series of four articles (in Italian) on a new method for measuring blood pressure. Previous non-invasive methods were all based on compression of the radial pulse, in keeping with centuries of medical tradition, but they were cumbersome and unreliable. Riva-Rocci’s innovation consisted in compressing the brachial artery instead, at the level of the upper arm. For this purpose he devised an inflatable rubber tube, which was rigid on the outside. Disappearance of the radial pulse on palpation indicated the systolic arterial pressure, as Riva-Rocci confirmed by calibration experiments in animals and with human cadavers. His instrument was introduced world-wide after a chance visit by the American neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing (1869-1939). The Russian surgeon Nikolai Korotkoff (1874-1920) was the first to apply auscultation of the artery below the cuff (in 1905), a method that allowed determination of diastolic arterial pressure. Riva-Rocci was Chief of Medicine at the municipal hospital in Varese from 1900 to 1928, where he developed a special interest in paediatrics.
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