18th Century Medicine
Episode #8 of the course “Brief History of Medicine”
As medicine advanced, more complicated procedures were discovered and proposed throughout the 18th century. Unfortunately, as the knowledge did not always coincide or keep up with the theory, many people were subjected to misguided medical treatments as tradition and progress clashed in the developing medical sciences. One of the most important developments of European medicine in the 18th century was the incorporation of immunization as a prevention against disease. Practiced in Turkey for an unknown amount of time, it was brought to England and proven effective enough to become a part of public discussion. Once in England, Dr. Edward Jenner took the information about the disease transfer of smallpox and created a vaccine. Once it became common to immunize and inoculate people and animals against diseases, the medical world exploded in new directions.
18th century medical professionals were especially becoming interested in diagnosing and treating psychological ailments, or “madness.” Because of the more developed autopsies and dissections being done on human bodies, physicians had a better understanding of organ functionality and the connection between psychological and physical symptoms. People being treated for “madness” were often experimented on scientifically, given baths of ice to subdue manic attacks or being subjected to electric shocks. The discovery and experiments with electricity in the 18th century became important to understanding how the body functions. One of the most famous patients of an asylum in the 18th century was King George III of England, who was likely affected by porphyria, a genetic blood disorder.
The 18th century saw advances in technology, including the invention of the stethoscope, and the first researched and documented text on the ancient techniques of midwifery. With the publication of Treatises on the Theory and Practice of Midwifery, physicians could read about and see fully illustrated medical diagrams of the process of birth for the first time.
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