Human beings have been experiencing health problems since thousands of years ago, and illnesses have grown in variety and number throughout the years. Whenever new diseases were discovered, physicians and medical experts would try to find cures for them, but there are still a number of diseases that remain incurable today.
The Ancient World
The earliest evidence of medicinal practices dates back to about 10,000 years ago. During those times, illnesses were considered a spiritual curse, and shamans would perform rituals and cast spells to heal the sick. There is also evidence that some spiritual healers in the ancient times performed brain surgery on people who were suffering from serious illnesses. Around 5000 BC, the Chinese were already using herbs to cure illnesses. Shen Nong, a legendary emperor, experimented with herbs by consuming many different species of plants to test their effects.
In 2000 BC, medicinal science became more advanced as the Egyptians developed healing methods for cold and other common illnesses. They used herbs, as well as medical and spiritual healing methods to cure sicknesses, and some of these methods are similar to those that are being used today. Around 450 BC, a Greek philosopher by the name of Hippocrates introduced the theory of humor imbalance, which explained the causes of illnesses. Hippocrates is widely regarded as the founder of modern medicine. Later on, the Romans also experimented with medical procedures, and they developed effective treatment methods for wounds as well as hernia, bladder stones, and cataracts.
- US Directory of History of Medicine Collections
- Chinese Medicine History
- Medicine of Ancient Egypt
- Ancient Greek Medicine
- Medicine and Surgery in Ancient Rome
The Middle Ages
Little improvement was made to medicinal science during the Middle Ages because many of the older healing methods were banned by the church. Surgery became more advanced, however, with the use of opium as a pain reliever and wine as a sterilizer for wounds. In the year 1347, the bubonic plague occurred in Istanbul, and it was spread to other parts of Europe by traveling merchants. Some regions had up to 90% of their population wiped out by the disease.
The humor imbalance theory of Hippocrates was further developed during the Renaissance by Andreas Vesalius and Leonardo da Vinci, who started dissecting human bodies to develop a better understanding of the human anatomy. Pharmacists also began to experiment with herbs that were brought back from the Americas by Christopher Columbus. As new lands were reached, the spread of diseases also became more rampant, with the bubonic plague killing many people in Europe and smallpox taking the lives of many Incas and Aztecs. Around this time, hospitals and medical schools were set up in many major cities in Europe.
The Industrial Revolution
During the Industrial Revolution, many people were killed by diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, cholera, and measles. Medical experts began to find new ways to prevent these diseases, and Edward Jenner developed the first vaccinations. Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur made discoveries that contributed to a better understanding of bacterial infections. Florence Nightingale also helped to improve the standards of hygiene in hospitals, and Joseph Lister introduced the use of antiseptic to sterilize wounds and surgical tools.
- 18th Century Medicine
- Edward Jenner and the Discovery of Vaccination
- Robert Koch Biography
- Louis Pasteur the Biologist
The Modern World
From the start of the 20th century onwards, many discoveries were made in the field of medicine science. Antibiotics and various other medicines were invented, and medical imaging was also developed to allow surgeons to make plans for operations. Later on, scientists started to research on DNA and genetics, which gave new insight into the development of many health disorders, including diabetes, heart diseases, and Alzheimer’s disease. Well-known diseases of the modern era include AIDS and SARS.