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HISTORY OF MEDICINE MEDICINE IN THE MIDDLE AGES
With the Roman Empire collapsing, the great public health system fell into
disrepair and all progress in medicine was lost.
Towns were run by corporations who decided how much to spend on
various matters such as public health. In this case they didn't have enough
money and simply couldn't be bothered to do anything about it.
Cause and Cure of Disease
Causes divided between supernatural/magical and physical.
Church taught that God could send disease as a punishment and so
pilgrimages and prayer would obvious treatments. Also they believed that
the planets caused disease so knowledge in astrology and astronomy was
believed to be important. Also some diseases such as Scrofula were believed
to be able to have been cured by the monarch's touch.
The theory of the four humours still survived and was the main natural belief
behind the cause of disease. Urine analysis was used in diagnosis and herbal
cures were still used (but still believed to work because of their magical
The Black Death
Arrived in Britain in 1348 as a bubonic plague spread through flea bites and
killed between a third and a half of the population.
It caused high temperatures, headaches, vomiting and the appearance of
buboes (which turned black) and consequently died or recovered as the
Blamed God (flagellants attempted to cure themselves), Jews (burnt them at
the stake), Planets (there were no cures), Filth (mass clear up of London
ordered by the King), Bad Air (fragranced homes).
Dissecting opportunities at medical schools were wasted as a demonstrator
dissected the body and pointed out the parts while a lecturer was reading
from Galen. This caused continuity when continuity was not what was
Still more likely to die than not even if the surgeon was a trained, licensed
one rather than an unqualified barber-surgeon. Often there were fatal
infections of wounds or simply blood loss (shock).
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External surgery such as treating cataracts in the eye was most successful.
Hugh and Theodoric used wine as an antiseptic while others began to
experiment with anaesthetics.
War led to skill in treating broken or fractured limbs as well as removing
arrows and stopping bleeding.
Townspeople struggled to find clean water to wash or even cook with.
Most of the rivers were polluted with rubbish and sewage as there were no
public toilets. Most houses shared cesspits or built privies over streams.…read more
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The impact of Christianity and Islam on medicine Christianity provided wealth to
build hospitals and provide free care for the poor. They preached that God sent disease
as a punishment and led to treatments such as flagellants and pilgrimages. Islam doctors
translated Galen into Arabic meaning that his works was not lost.
The reasons for the acceptance of Galenic medicine still the only person to have
provided a complete theory of medicine and his theories suited Christianity.…read more