Renaissance medicine

  • Created by: holly6901
  • Created on: 26-05-19 15:28

Causes of disease and illness

  • Scholars were paid to restore old texts and fix the bad translations that had been published in the Middle Ages. The theories proposed by Hippocrates and Galen became popular again.
  • There was an increased focus on the importance of human factors rather than supernatural things. This was called humanism. There was also a focus on direct observation and experiments to explain things rather than blame them on something supernatural. This led some people to question the Church. 
  • Renaissance means rebirth. It was a time of rebirth in the arts and science. The printing press (created in 1440) was very important to share and spread ideas. The printing press allowed knowledge to be shared with more people very cheaply. Books and leaflets could be printed and sent across Europe whereas previously, a lot of information was only told person-to-person.
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Galen and Hippocrates work

  • The rediscovery of Galen and Hippocrates' work meant that people began to see the importance of dissection and human anatomy.
  • The focus on humans and the increased spread of ideas all encouraged experimentation and the search for explanations.
  • People began to dissect human bodies (corpses) and there were illustrations in medical writings and books.
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Changes in society in the Renaissance

  • Between 1536 and 1541, Henry VIII closed a lot of Britain's monasteries.
  • Because hospitals were often run by monasteries, there were actually fewer hospitals in this period than in previous years.
  • Dissections became a more integral (important) part of medical training.
  • The College of Physicians (founded in 1518) improved training and encouraged scientific observation.
  • Guns became a lot more common in 17th-century warfare. This led to new injuries and doctors had to find new ways to treat gunshot wounds.
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Methods of treatment

Doctors in the Renaissance period still didn’t have much training. They still used old methods that people like Harvey thought were ineffective but some began to use more modern techniques. The printing press and the works of Harvey, Pare and Vesalius helped to spread new ideas.

    • However, blood transfusions only offered a solution to treat patients using Harvey’s theory of circulation in 1628. Europe in the Renaissance was still a very religious place. Doctors still believed that supernatural things caused illness. Pilgrimages and prayers were still prescribed to cure illnesses. The people believed the ‘Royal Touch’ could cure disease. People would flock to the King to be cured of scrofula. People still sought wise women and apothecaries to cure disease.
  • There were advances in approaches to medicine. Hospitals began to focus on treating patients, not just caring for them. Lots of towns had pharmacies. Books were being published which covered how to treat illness at home.
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  • Quackery was a form of medicine based on spectacles and displays.
  • Many people viewed this as fraudulent medicine and this became more common in the 17th and 18th century.
  •  Quacks claimed their medicines could cure everything but they were usually ineffective. 
  • Quacks often gave patients stimulants like opium, which gave patients the impression that they were getting better. In reality, they were giving their patients an addiction.
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The work of Sydenham

  • Sydenham prioritised treating patients and observing the outcomes rather than learning from books. He recorded his observations of patients' illnesses and treatments and this allowed him to see patterns between illnesses and treatments.
  • Sydenham used his records and the patterns he spotted to classify (sort) diseases into different types based on which symptoms a patient had. For example, Sydenham showed that measles and scarlet fever were different types of diseases.
  • In 1676, he published a book named "Medical Observations". Medical Observations was used by doctors for 200 years.
  • He described different illnesses and suggested ways to treat them (e.g for illnesses like gout).
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The printing press

  • Before the printing press, books had to be copied by hand. This either took months for each copy or was not done because it took too much effort.
  • In 1480, there were 110 printers in Europe. By 1500 they were in 77 cities in Italy and by 1600, 151 cities had printing presses. Being able to print more books quickly meant that more people could read other people's ideas and theories. The writings of Galen and Pare could be reprinted in lots of different languages for people all across Europe to read. By 1500, 20 million copies had been made by Western European printing presses.
  • If people do not fully understand a theory, it is hard to critique it.
  • Publishing lots of copies of a theory can mean that lots of people understand a theory in more detail and can then work out what is wrong with it and whether it is right.
  • Students studying medicine and other things could use books and textbooks for reference more often.
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The Royal Society

  • The Royal Society's journal was called "Philosophical Transactions".
  • This journal was well-respected and helped to spread scientific and medical ideas across Britain.
    • Isaac Newton's first paper "New Theory about Light and Colours" was published in Philosophical Transactions.
  • The motto of the royal society was "Nullius in Verba". This means "take nobody's word for it".
  • This motto sounds similar to the scientific process. Make observations and question assumptions underlying different medical treatments and scientific theories.
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Renaissance Hospitals

  • The modern hospitals that we use today were born in the 17th and 18th centuries. These hospitals were funded by wealthy people or by private subscriptions from the local community. Specialist wards (like maternity wards) and specialist hospitals were established to treat certain diseases. This organisation was more effective at curing disease.
  • Reformers like Florence Nightingale drove a lot of reforms in hospitals. Following the work of Nightingale, a higher level of cleanliness and organisation was demanded from hospitals.
  • Hospitals began to create pharmacies which could provide medicine. 
  • Poor people were often looked after in workhouses. Workhouses were large buildings where the unemployed, ill or elderly could be looked after. Conditions in workhouses were often very bad, although they got better after 1850.
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Numbers of hospitals

  • In the 18th century, there was a significant increase in hospitals.
    • For example, in London, there were 5 new general hospitals built between 1720 and 1750. Hospitals like Guy's Hospital opened.
  • This was accompanied by a rise in patient numbers.
  • Hospital treatment was free but most treatments were still based on Galen’s four humours.
  • Attitudes toward illness began to change in the 18th century.
  • The idea that illness was a punishment for sin was increasingly less popular.
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Changes for physicians and surgeons

  • The College of Physicians was set up in 1518. Most British doctors were trained here and they were still learning Galen’s works. In the 18th century, most doctors still believed in the four humours or that disease was spread through ‘bad air’ (miasmas).
  • Doctors got a license if they were trained at the college of physicians. Quack doctors did not receive this license, but some unlicensed doctors were also good doctors.
  • There weren't many changes in nursing in Britain until Florence Nightingale's work in the Crimean War in 1854. After this, Nightingale published a book “Notes on Nursing”. The status of nursing was enhanced as they were expected to care for patients and assist doctors.
  • By this point in the Middle Ages, there were 2 main types of surgeon: Professional surgeons, who had trained at university and were expensive and well paid. Barber-surgeons, who were unqualified and not very well respected. Surgeons’ status began to improve and in 1800, the London College of Surgeons was set up. It created training standards for surgeons.
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The work of Vesalius

  • Vesalius thought that surgery would only get better if people understood the body and the anatomy better. He used dissections (of executed criminals) to show that Galen’s understanding of the human body was wrong. He faced opposition for criticising Galen and had to leave his job at the university.
  • Vesalius published his Six Anatomical Pictures in 1538 and then published On The Fabric of the Human Body in 1543. On The Fabric of the Human Body had illustrations based on Vesalius’ dissections. Copies of Vesalius’ work reached physicians in Britain. Doctors were encouraged to do dissections themselves after Vesalius’ work. Vesalius is credited with inspiring other anatomists, such as Fabricus and Fallopius.
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William Harvey

Harvey challenged Galen’s understanding of blood and how it circulated around the body. He thought that blood circulated around the body. This view as different to Galen’s view that new blood was made in the liver and used as fuel.

  • Harvey used valves to show that blood could only flow one way in the body and he thought that too much blood was in the body to be continually created as fuel. He showed that the heart was a pump for the blood in the body. 
  • When Harvey first published his theory, he was ridiculed. The professional opinion did change, but it took a lot of time and lots of doctors continued to use bloodletting despite Harvey showing it would not be effective. This highlights the limited impact of one individual. Although Harvey made this major discovery, his ideas needed to be accepted by the medical community. Harvey’s theory implied that bloodletting was a counterproductive (ineffective) method of treatment. But this continued for many years as doctors didn’t know what else to do. 
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William Harvey

  • Despite his discoveries, Harvey did not understand why blood needed to circulate around the body and why blood in arteries and veins was different. His theory of circulation was the first stage towards blood transfusions becoming possible to save people’s lives. In 1901, the discovery of blood groups made blood transfusions successful.
  • In 1661, after Harvey had died, a microscope was developed. This microscope showed that veins and arteries were linked by capillaries.
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The Great Plague 1665

  • People still blamed miasma or supernatural/religious causes (God’s will) just like they did in the Black Death.
  • Remedies for the plague included bloodletting through leeches, smoking, using animals such as frogs or snakes to ‘draw out the poison’ or moving to the countryside.
  • In 1666 the plague seemed to be ending. Some people think that the Great Fire of London (1666) killed a lot of the bacteria causing the plague and helping to end the epidemic.
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The Great Plague 1665

  • There were some significant improvements in the 317 years between the Black Death and the Great Plague. People recognised the connection between dirt and disease. Local governments were more organised. Quarantine was more effective, bodies were collected and buried at least 6 foot deep in plague pits, trade stopped and communal gatherings were banned. The England-Scotland border was closed. People were locked in their houses to stop the disease spreading. Plague doctors wore special suits to protect them against “miasma”. They had masks stuffed with aromatic herbs to stop the “bad air” from reaching them. This was not based on correct science but luckily the suits probably helped to reduce the spread of the plague. Local governments and special suits helped to deal with the plague better, but nobody really understood why it had happened or what caused it.
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