Lupus is an autoimmune disease characterised by a skin rash, joint pain and fatigue. Although poorly understood even today, it is known to be caused by an anomalous response of the body’s immune system, which erroneously begins to attack otherwise healthy tissue.
In 1852, when the Canada Medical Journal reported this case, the condition was widely (and incorrectly) believed to … Read more
In 1849 Mrs Charlotte Winslow of Bangor in Maine invented a medicinal product for children which was as successful in its day as Calpol is now. Any comparison must, however, end there.
‘Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup’ was marketed as an effective analgesic, to be given to teething infants and older children with indigestion. A contemporary advertisement declared that ‘it is … Read more
I recently wrote about the horrifying animal remedies which one could buy in a London apothecary’s shop in the seventeenth century. These were far from being the most disgusting products on sale in these emporia. Apothecaries also traded in various human substances. There’s a useful catalogue in Robert James’s 1747 edition of the London Pharmacopoeia:
Homo, Man, is not only … Read more
If there’s one thing that everybody knows about early medicine, it’s the fact that doctors loved to use leeches. Attaching a leech, or even dozens of them, to remove a small amount of blood from a diseased part of the body was a favourite remedy for the best part of 2000 years – and was still being used well … Read more
Digging around in an 1851 edition of The Monthly Journal of Medical Science, I stumbled across a long and rather dry article about Roman medicine by a Dr Simpson, professor of midwifery at the University of Edinburgh. His narrative is enlivened by a list of bizarre remedies favoured by Roman doctors. He then points out – rather in the … Read more
One of the difficulties of surgery, even today, is keeping the patient’s body temperature at a safe level. Core temperatures can drop quite dramatically when a large incision has been made, and although it is theoretically possible to keep the patient warm by making the operating theatre hotter, in practice this makes conditions intolerable for the surgeons and other theatre … Read more
Bright sunlight has long been known to be bad for the eyes. Prolonged exposure to UV radiation can cause a range of problems, including cataracts and cancers. In 1802 a Dr Whyte, a physician with long experience of practice in Egypt and other hot climates, wrote an article for The Medical and Physical Journal about the dangers of sunlight in … Read more
Nineteenth-century opinion on the subject of smoking was sharply divided. On the one hand there were many prominent doctors who condemned the practice as unhealthy, and even suggested that it caused cancers of the mouth; on the other, there were plenty of physicians who believed that smoking eased coughs and other respiratory disorders by promoting the production of mucus.
In … Read more
Alcoholic drinks were an important part of the physician’s armoury until surprisingly recently. In the early years of the twentieth century, brandy (or whiskey, in the US) was still being administered to patients as a stimulant after they had undergone major surgery. Every tipple you can think of – from weak ale to strong spirits – has been prescribed at … Read more
Tetanus is a bacterial infection usually contracted through a skin wound – in the days before a vaccine was widely available, cases were fairly common and could follow something as trivial as pricking a finger on a thorn. Before the twentieth century physicians had few therapeutic options. But in 1798 a doctor from New York found a novel way to … Read more