Modern medical advancements have changed the course of human health in countless ways. New discoveries and medical breakthroughs let us live longer and combat diseases and conditions that used to shorten the average life span, often by decades. But even while we’re making technological advances, some treatments that were used widely in the 1800s are still valid treatment options today.
The basic aspirin tablet still used today to stop headaches got its start as the discovery of salicylic acid in 1829. The acid was combined with other chemical compounds and turned into aspirin in 1838, but it still took years for anyone to recognize the importance and value of the drug and to formulate it in such a way that people who took it could tolerate it.
The Bayer Company began mass-production of aspirin later that century. We have so many different types of drugs and pain relievers available, but aspirin remains one of the most used and most essential drugs we have in the world today.
Most articles about percussion therapy pinpoint the mid-1800s as the time when it emerged as a treatment, but some scholars suspect that it really got its start in Greece thousands of years ago. What ancient healers did by plucking a type of bowstring over wounds so the vibration could help them heal, people do today with the help of a percussive massage gun.
These devices are held over the muscle that needs to be treated and can deliver up to 3,400 strokes per minute. The high frequency of the vibration is supposed to flush out lactic acid and loosen the muscle to discourage scar tissue from forming by increasing blood and lymphatic fluid flow into the tissues. Percussion therapy is often used by athletes in the place of a regular massage to reduce soreness and speed recovery time after workouts or injuries.
Stethoscopes are so common that doctors and nurses portrayed in various types of media almost always have one around their neck or sticking out of a pocket. This reflects real life, where medical professionals typically carry one at all times. Before the invention of the stethoscope in 1816, doctors would press their ears to a patient’s chest or back. Stethoscopes remain one of the most reliable and inexpensive diagnostic tools we have for listening to the heart and lungs.
Without the ability to give blood to someone who needs it, the daily death toll around the world would be many times higher than it is. The first human-to-human transfusion was given in 1818. By the early 20th century, the transfusion had been perfected into something so safe and reliable that it became a routine procedure that still saves countless lives every day.
Germ Theory and Antiseptic Practices
Before Louis Pasteur’s experiments in the 19th century that proved his germ theory, surgeons often didn’t even wash their hands before plunging them into a wound or incision. That changed in 1867 when Joseph Lister founded modern antiseptic practices based on Pasteur’s theory.
He created antiseptic surgical procedures and outlined how doctors could help ensure the recovery of their patients through cleanliness in a series of articles published in The Lancet, which is still one of the most renowned medical journals worldwide.
This revolutionized medical practices around the world where most of the people who died after surgeries didn’t die from the procedures but of the infections they developed because of dirty hands, instruments and conditions. The same principles are used today, though now we have more advanced methods of sterilization and often use disposable items to avoid cross-contamination between patients.
Without insulin, diabetes would be a much more deadly disease than it is. The discovery of insulin in 1869 led to its use as a treatment to keep blood sugar under control. It’s still used every day by people with both Type I and Type II diabetes to remove sugar from the blood into cells to keep the harmful effects of high blood sugar from damaging their other organs.
The alkaloid quinine comes from the bark of a specific type of tree that was used in South America for years to treat fevers. In 1820, it was isolated from the bark and used to treat malaria, saving countless lives. While we have synthetic drugs based on quinine available today, it’s still considered one of the world’s most essential medicines by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The first surgery on the sac around the heart, the pericardium, dates all the way back to 1801. The first surgery on the heart muscle itself took place in 1895, but the patient didn’t survive. The first successful heart surgery took place the next year, and though the methods have changed since then, open-heart surgery is still a common medical procedure.
In 1827, morphine got its start as a drug used to control pain. This highly addictive drug derived from opium has often been sold as a street drug, but its ability to numb pain makes it a drug that’s regularly prescribed still today, especially for patients who’ve had major surgery.
While using leeches sounds like something disgusting that’s best left to antiquity, leeches are still used for very limited medical purposes. Leeches have a powerful anticoagulant in their saliva that has been used in drugs that treat many different conditions like hypertension and arthritis.
Ancient Egyptians started the use of leeches, and they were a popular treatment for all types of ailments from headaches to hysteria in the 19th century. Today, leeches are sometimes used to remove blood and introduce that coagulant to treat patients with heart and circulatory problems.