Virchow and his triad: a question of attribution

Br J Haematol. 2008 Oct;143(2):180-90. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2141.2008.07323.x. Epub 2008 Sep 6.


Virchow's triad describes three factors that contribute to the development of venous thrombosis: hypercoagulability, stasis and endothelial injury. Yet, extensive review of the historical literature casts doubt on the existence of a triad described by Virchow in the form it is currently quoted throughout contemporary medical literature. Certainly his work involved extensive study of venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, with these two terms being coined by Virchow, but a triad of factors relating to the development of venous thrombosis is elusive. Interestingly, Virchow only began to be routinely credited with this triad one hundred years after publication of his work on venous thrombosis. This acknowledgement coincided with the accumulation of experimental evidence for the role these factors play in thrombogenesis. Controversial as the origins of Virchow's triad might be, it is apt given his substantial contribution to our knowledge of venous thromboembolism, and the fact that the triad continues to be clinically relevant today that a triad pertaining to Virchow should remain.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • Germany
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Venous Thrombosis / history

Personal name as subject

  • Rudolf Virchow