Due to the hot and dry climate in Egypt, ancient papyri have survived intact, allowing historians to study the sophisticated techniques employed by Ancient Egyptian physicians. Whilst couched in magic and ritual, the Egyptians possessed a great deal of knowledge of healing herbs and repairing physical injuries, amongst the normal population and the workers responsible for building the great monuments of that nation.
After the fall of Rome in the 5th century the eastern half of the Roman Empire continued (we know it as The Byzantine Empire) and later Muslims took their knowledge of medicine from there. In the 9th century a man named Hunain Ibn Ishaq traveled to Greece collecting Greek books. He then returned to Baghdad and translated them into Arabic. Later the same works were translated into Latin and passed back to western Europe.
Mental illnesses were well known in ancient Mesopotamia, where diseases and mental disorders were believed to be caused by specific deities. Because hands symbolized control over a person, mental illnesses were known as "hands" of certain deities. One psychological illness was known as Qāt Ištar, meaning "Hand of Ishtar". Others were known as "Hand of Shamash", "Hand of the Ghost", and "Hand of the God". Descriptions of these illnesses, however, are so vague that it is usually impossible to determine which illnesses they correspond to in modern terminology. Mesopotamian doctors kept detailed record of their patients' hallucinations and assigned spiritual meanings to them. A patient who hallucinated that he was seeing a dog was predicted to die; whereas, if he saw a gazelle, he would recover. The royal family of Elam was notorious for its members frequently suffering from insanity. Erectile dysfunction was recognized as being rooted in psychological problems.
The snakeroot plant has traditionally been a tonic in the east to calm patients; it is now used in orthodox medical practice to reduce blood pressure. Doctors in ancient India gave an extract of foxglove to patients with legs swollen by dropsy, an excess of fluid resulting from a weak heart; digitalis, a constituent of foxglove, is now a standard stimulant for the heart. Curare, smeared on the tip of arrows in the Amazonian jungle to paralyze the prey, is an important muscle relaxant in modern surgery.
As an alternative form of medicine in India, Unani medicine got deep roots and royal patronage during medieval times. It progressed during Indian sultanate and mughal periods. Unani medicine is very close to Ayurveda. Both are based on theory of the presence of the elements (in Unani, they are considered to be fire, water, earth and air) in the human body. According to followers of Unani medicine, these elements are present in different fluids and their balance leads to health and their imbalance leads to illness.
Antibiotics were discovered too. Penicillin was discovered in 1928 by Alexander Fleming but it was not widely used till after 1940. Another antibiotic, streptomycin was isolated in 1944. It was used to treat tuberculosis. They were followed by many others. Meanwhile the iron lung was invented in 1928 and in 1943 Willem Kolff built the first artificial kidney machine. (The first kidney transplant was performed in 1950 by Richard Lawler).
The editor of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences is pleased to announce the winner of the annual Stanley Jackson award for the best paper in the journal appearing in the preceding three years. The prize committee chose: Todd M. Olszewski, "The Causal Conundrum: The Diet-Heart Debates and the Management of Uncertainty in American Medicine" (70:2, April 2015).
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