10 Historical Medical Practices You Won't Believe Existed

Written by Madison School of Healthcare On Tuesday, 27 June 2017. Posted in Healthcare Insights, Nursing

10 Historical Medical Practices You Won't Believe Existed

Modern medicine and medical practices have come a long way since the earliest days of treatments and patient care. Many remedies thought to solve health concerns were harmful and often deadly. Fortunately, medicine has evolved into a practice largely based on science and safety. Here are 10 medical practices any healthcare professional will find hard to believe existed.

  1. Mercury as a Cure-all

    Today we know of mercury's toxicity and poisonous potential, but long ago it was believed to heal wounds, extend life, and cure ailments, mercury has been found in Egyptian tombs dating back as far as 1500 BC. Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang became so determined to reach eternal life that he ate a mercury compound concocted by scientists and doctors. The Mercury mixture wound up taking his life.

  2. Bathing Children with a Fever in Alcohol + Water

    Pediatric patients with fever were commonly washed with a solution of lukewarm water and alcohol. This changed when it was determined that using water alone to bring down body temperatures was the better tactic. Outside of fever reduction, adding alcohol to liquid body therapy can lead to skin irritation since the action of rubbing it into the skin (friction) increases heat, which makes it even more strange that medical professionals once believed it could reduce fever.

  3. Reusing Syringes and Glass IVs

    Fifty years ago, syringes were made of glass and reused after a fire-based sterilization in between uses. IV bags had not been invented yet, so you guessed it- glass IV bottles. Needles were sharpened manually because they were not made for single use. Nowadays sterilization is key, but replacing certain used tools with new ones is the standard.

  4. Bloodletting

    This process involved letting out large quantities of blood from the body to cure a variety of health issues. Bloodletting is one of the older-known medical techniques spanning approximately 2,000 years, finally falling out of fashing in the 1800s. Not knowing that blood circulates throughout the body, the old idea was that blood could build up and cause illness or ailments.

  5. Children's Relaxing Syrups

    Created to calm and relax the recipient, soothing syrups gave parent(s) the "freedom" to do as they pleased for the day by neutralizing an upset or otherwise bothersome child. In reality, this remedy was a potentially fatal mixture that included substances like morphine, cannabis, heroin, and powdered opium. Unfortunately the mixture had the potential to go beyond mellowing a child–it could kill them.

  6. Tobacco Remedies

    Greek and Eastern cultures used smoke and incense for treating the cough and other respiratory ailments. After traveling across the Atlantic Ocean, Europeans used the leaf to treat conditions like cancer, hypothermia, headaches and head colds, stomach cramps, and even intestinal worms. Today, we find it hard to believe people were allowed to smoke on airplanes, let along use tobacco as a medical treatment for things like respiratory issues.

  7. Alcohol for Digestion…and Body Protection

    According to 13th-century alchemist Roger Bacon, alcohol could be used to help digestion, strengthen body heat, preserve the stomach, and defend the body from corruption. As far having the ability to "concoct the food until it's turned into blood," we're pretty sure Mr. Bacon was a bit misguided.

  8. Electrical Impotence Cures

    Medical practitioners and inventors alike believed that electricity could bring energy into the human body. They theorized electric currents, which were designed to shock weak parts of the body back to life, could heal male impotence. This practice was most popular between 1890-1920.

  9. Lobotomy Procedures

    A horrible practice that essentially involved inserting metal rod(s) into the brain and hitting them with a hammer or similar object. The term comes from the Greek lobos and tomos, or "lobe" and "cut." The goal was to induce a "brain scrambling" to help with many mental illnesses, but it turned out to be one of the worst mistakes in the history of the medical field.

  10. Ear Candling

    There is no scientific data that this trick, which involves placing a long (sometimes 12 inch) candle into someone's ear to clear debrics, crustaceans, and wax, works. The pointed end of the candle is positioned in the ear and the wider end is lit. Proponents of ear candling believed the heat helped create a suction to pull earwax or other materials out of the ear and into the candle. Unsurprisingly, this therapy is inneffective and can even – you guessed it – lead to candle wax dripping into the ear canal or other injuries.

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Madison School of Healthcare

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