Treatment of diseases in the antiquity

One of the earliest known treatises on medicine is the Egyptian Kahun Papyrus

One of the earliest known treatises on medicine, the Egyptian Kahun Papyrus, describes a variety of illnesses and the appropriate remedies. The text was written in 1900 BC and is believed to be a copy of an earlier text from approximately 1850 BC. The Kahun Papyrus contains forty-two cases with symptoms and treatments for each one.

Some Egyptian physicians practiced surgery

Surgery was a common practice in the ancient world, and some Egyptian physicians practiced it as well. In addition to removing tumors, including cancers, and performing circumcision on men, some surgeons also performed other procedures such as draining fluid from the abdomen.

Surgery was not considered an independent discipline; rather, it was practiced alongside other medical specialties such as pharmacy and anatomy. Sometimes surgery would be used for a specific condition (e.g., treating heart disease) but sometimes it served more general purposes (e.g., removing excess tissue).

Healing was done through both magic and medicine

In the ancient world, healing was done through both magic and medicine. Although there was a general belief that diseases were caused by supernatural forces, Greek physicians emphasized the importance of observation and experience in diagnosis. The Hippocratic Oath was written in the 5th century BC.

Greek medicine was based on a humoral system

Illness was thought to be caused by an imbalance in one or other of these humors which could be cured by certain therapies or drugs. The first Greek physician to use empirical methods was Alcmaeon of Croton (ca. 515–ca. 450 BC). He argued that diseases had physical rather than supernatural causes and should be treated using diet, drugs, and surgery.

  • The four humours were blood (warm and wet), phlegm (cold and moist), black bile (cold and dry), and yellow bile (hot and dry).
  • Ideals of beauty were associated with being tall, thin, pale-skinned, fair-haired, and light-eyed with a weak body odor.
  • Philosophical schools included Stoicism, Epicureanism & Cynicism.
  • Many gods were worshipped in Greek mythology including Zeus & Hera who were the most powerful deities; Hades was the ruler of the underworld where spirits go after death; Aphrodite was the goddess of love & beauty; Ares was the god of war; Hermes was the messenger god between mortals & gods as well as trade & travel throughout Greece.

In Arab-Islamic medicine, the role of experience was stressed

In Arab-Islamic medicine, the role of experience was stressed. Physicians were expected to have personal experience of their treatments before recommending them. This approach led to remarkable achievements in medical research by such prominent figures as Rhazes, Avicenna, and Ibn al-Nafis (1213–88).

Rhazes (865–925) believed that diseases could be treated by restoring the balance between four humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile (choler), and black bile (melancholy). The treatment he used most often was bleeding; his success rate was 70%. He also suggested diet therapy and purges with warm water to cleanse the body after each treatment.

Early Indian physicians attempted to classify illnesses as either curable or incurable

Early Indian physicians attempted to classify illnesses as either curable or incurable. They also tried to classify illnesses as natural or supernatural in origin. However, there was no clear distinction between human and divine disease in the Hindu religion and medicine. For example, an ancient work on the treatment of diseases called Susruta Samhita (ca. 600 BCE) discusses the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of leprosy. The text mentions that there are three types of leprosy: white (valka), black (krishna) and red (pinkara). The white type is mostly curable whereas the black-type may or may not be curable depending on its severity and location.

Treatment in the Middle Ages

The most common treatment of the Middle Ages was mercury, which was applied topically in the form of ointments or taken orally as a pill. While it did not cure any conditions, it did treat symptoms like pain and swelling. However, this drug had many side effects including:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Depression

Treatment of syphilis in the Renaissance

The treatment of syphilis in the Renaissance was based on the use of mercury and guaiacum. Mercury, mercuric oxide or calomel, was used to treat syphilis even though it did not cure the disease but only suppressed symptoms. Guaiacum (Guajacum officinale) is a tropical evergreen tree that has leaves similar to those of an oak tree. It grows in Mexico and Central America; however, its wood is also imported from other countries such as Brazil and Haiti. The bark has been used since ancient times as a remedy for fevers, gastrointestinal disorders and skin conditions such as leprosy and venereal diseases including syphilis (Royse & Royse, 2007).

In addition to these two remedies being used together at various times throughout history there have been cases where both have proven effective when combined with each other. However there are also cases where only one or neither were effective for treating syphilis (Royse & Royse 2007).

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