BACKGROUND In the 'fashionable' field of eating disorders, there has been a notable gap in the historiography of rumination, allowing considerable scope for constructing a comprehensive historical profile of this disorder.
METHOD A wide-ranging examination of printed material, both etymological and medical, backed by a Medline computer search, uncovered extensive sources, some of considerable rarity, including case reports from the early 17th century onwards. Extracted data focused on incidence, sex distribution, age range, outcome and causation, and the findings are discussed in relation to diagnostic criteria in DSM-III-R and ICD-10.
RESULTS While confirming the frequency of rumination in infants and the mentally retarded, the study demonstrated, particularly, the need to recognise its occurrence in normal adults, occasionally as a collateral behaviour in anorexia and bulimia nervosa, and suggested that its prevalence, distorted by secrecy, exceeded estimated levels.
CONCLUSIONS In future reviews of classification, existing anomalies and inadequacies in the status and description of rumination would benefit from integrating some of the historical conclusions.