e-book A Brief History of Disease, Science and Medicine

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Until We Come Up With Something Witty To Say…

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Early Concepts of Disease

Page vi Share Cite. Page vii Share Cite. Masys, University of Washington Stephen M. Schwartz, University of Washington Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release.

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Garbage and waste accumulated, and rodents and insect vectors were attracted to human settlements, providing sources of disease. The engraving below shows a woman emptying her bedpan into the street of a medieval village. For many centuries explanations for disease were based not on science, but on religion, superstition, and myth. The Hippocratic Corpus was an early attempt to think about diseases, not as punishment from the gods, but as an imbalance of man with the environment.

Although it was unsophisticated by today's standards, it was an important step forward. By considering the possibility that disease was associated with environmental factors or imbalances in diet or personal behaviors, the Corpus also opened up the possibility of intervening to prevent disease or treat it. The Corpus looked at disease as an imbalance in natural forces or an imbalance in humours or fluids : melancholy, phlegm, bile, and blood. Health depended on a proper balance of these humours. While crude, this concept of humours provided some sort of rationale for understanding health and disease.

Greek physicians prescribed changes in diet or lifestyle and sometimes concocted drugs or performed surgery. An excess of the humour blood, for example, became the rationale for bloodletting , a practice that was followed for centuries without any evidence of its efficacy.

Despite the contributions of the Corpus, medical and scientific progress in Europe was arrested for several centuries. The population grew, and cities became densely populated, but there was little attention to waste disposal and sanitation. These factors set the stage for endemic disease and periodic epidemics. Bubonic plague is an acute infectious disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. The bacteria live in the intestines of fleas and are transmitted to rats by flea bites. The rats, therefore, serve as a natural reservoir for the disease, and fleas are the vectors.

Occasionally, an infected flea would jump to a human and introduce the bacteria when a blood meal was taken. The bacteria would then spread to the regional lymph nodes and multiply, causing dark, tender, swollen nodules buboes , as shown below in a boy a walnut-sized swelling in the inner aspect of his upper thigh. Starting in , Europe experienced multiple waves of bubonic plague epidemics that lasted until the late s.

Medicine and Health - Oxford Reference

It is believed that the bubonic plague originated in Asia and traveled along trade routes into the Black Sea and then into the Mediterranean Sea. From there, it swept through Sicily and Italy and then up through France and the northern European countries all the way up into Scandinavia. There were many subsequent waves of plague that swept through Europe until the late s.

The map below shows the spread of plague over a three year period from Asia across the Black Sea into the Mediterranean and then through Italy, France, England, Northern Europe, and into Scandanavia. The cause of the plague was not known, but there were many theories.

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The most popular explanation was that it was caused by " miasmas ," invisible vapors that emanated from swamps or cesspools and floated around in the air, where they could be inhaled. Others thought it was spread by person to person contact, or perhaps by too much sun exposure, or by intentional poisoning.

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The miasma theory was the most popular, however. One of the popes kept large fires burning at both ends of the room he worked in order to counteract the miasmas. Some historians and physicians argued machines made doctors poorer healers by encouraging them to focus only on the sick parts of the body, rather than caring for the patient as a whole. Many question whether excessive use of technology within childbirth or to prolong life can be intrusive and do more harm than good.

Advancing technology has presented physicians and patients with serious ethical dilemmas. Ultrasound screens foetuses for disease before babies are born. However, some parents must decide whether to terminate the pregnancy if the fetus is revealed to have a certain condition. Does medical technology impose on us more than it empowers? Add text to my collection. There are related objects. View all related objects. W F Bynum and R Porter, eds. R Cooter and J Pickstone, eds. J Howell, Technology in the hospital: transforming patient care in the early twentieth century John Hopkins University Press, R Bud and D J Warner eds.

All Glossary terms. Science Museum. Brought to Life: Exploring the History of Medicine. Belief and medicine Birth and death Controversies and medicine Diagnosis Diseases and epidemics Hospitals Public health Science and medicine Surgery Technology and medicine Assistive technologies Visualising the body Managing medical information: from statistics to computers Technology transforms diabetes Take a ride on the magic bus Medical traditions Treatments and cures Understanding the body War and medicine. Take a ride on the magic bus Start interactive.

Developing medical devices in the s During the s doctors and biomedical scientists developed instruments to examine and understand the body. Using electrical machines as therapy in the s Electrotherapy machines used electricity to treat patients during the s. Developing technology to assist the body Assistive technologies became central to medicine during the 20th century. Machines give rise to specialist medical practitioners Technologies had a major role in medicine becoming more specialised. Gradual acceptance of technology Not all new technologies were readily accepted by the medical community.

Limits on the use of technology within medicine Medical machines also caused practical problems.