Medical Definition of Humorism

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Humorism: In medicine, humor refers to a fluid (or semifluid) substance. Thus, the aqueous humor is the fluid normally present in the front and rear chambers of the eye. The humors were part of an ancient theory that held that health came from balance between the bodily liquids. These liquids were termed humors. Disease arose when imbalance occurred between the humors.

The humors were:

  • Phlegm (water)
  • Blood
  • Gall (black bile thought to be secreted by the kidneys and spleen)
  • Choler (yellow bile secreted by the liver)

The humoral theory (also called humoralism was devised well before Hippocrates (c.460-c.375 BC). It was not definitively demolished until Rudolf Virchow published his formative book, Cellularpathologie, in 1858 that laid out the cellular basis of pathology. Pathology now rests on a cellular and molecular foundation. The humors have been dispelled, except for the aqueous humor (and its ilk).

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Reviewed on 12/27/2018

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