In this paper, some of the medical literature on the historical disease-concept of ‘neurasthenia gastrica’ is reviewed. Neurasthenia gastrica was defined as a sub-unit of the wider category of neurasthenia, also referred to as nervous exhaustion or nervous weakness. Neurasthenia was a commonly used diagnostic label at the end of the nineteenth century and a few decades onwards, and was used to describe a wide variety of symptoms for which no ‘organic’ basis could be found. In neurasthenia gastrica, however, the gastrointestinal symptoms predominated, and there was considerable debate as to how the gut interacted with the central nervous system in the development of these ailments. Some of these discussions may be seen as historical precedents for the current debates on the brain–gut–microbiota axis, particularly in relation to the so-called functional gastrointestinal disorders.
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