A Brief History of Ergotism: From St. Anthony’s Fire and St. Vitus’ Dance Until Today
By Vincas Lapinskas
Theory and Practice in Medicine, Vol. 13, No. 2 (2007)
Objective: This review is devoted to the history and current manifestations of ergotism.
Material and Methods: A review of available sources of medical, biological and historical literature, including Internet search engines (PubMed, msn.com and others).
Results: Ergotism appeared in Europe in the early Middle Ages and manifested itself in gangrenous or convulsive forms. Between 1085 and 1927 epidemics of convulsive ergotism were widespread east of the Rhine in Europe. The main features of ergotism history and its clinical manifestations are reviewed. A connection between ergotism symptoms and some of the most important Medieval demographic, historic, and social events is discussed. A short history of the discovery of antimigrenic drugs is presented. New cases of ergotism due to overuse of serotoninergic drugs used for the treatment of migraine and to important pharmacokinetic interactions are reviewed.
Conclusions. Ergotism has had a great influence on many European demographic, historic, and social events; religious movements; and art. Physicians must be aware of ergotism symptoms due to the overuse of ergot and triptan group drugs and to the important interactions with macrolides and HIV-protease inhibitors.