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Day 22 of Our 31 Day Series of How Medicine Got It Wrong

Bloodletting: An Ancient Medical Treatment with Mixed Results



Bloodletting is a medical treatment that involves the intentional removal of blood from a patient's body. It has been used for thousands of years as a treatment for a wide variety of illnesses, although its popularity and effectiveness have waxed and waned over time.


The history of bloodletting can be traced back to ancient Egypt, where it was believed that illness was caused by "bad blood" that needed to be removed from the body. This idea was also present in the medical practices of ancient Greece and Rome, where bloodletting was a common treatment for many conditions.


During the Middle Ages, bloodletting became even more popular and was often performed by barbers, who would use a specialized knife called a lancet to make small incisions in the patient's skin. This practice continued into the Renaissance and was even recommended by prominent physicians like Galen and Hippocrates.


In the 19th century, bloodletting began to fall out of favor as scientific advances shed new light on the causes of illness. Nevertheless, it continued to be used as a treatment for some conditions, including pneumonia, fever, and certain types of infections.


Today, bloodletting is rarely used as a medical treatment, although it is still performed in some circumstances. In modern medicine, bloodletting is usually done as a therapeutic phlebotomy, which is the removal of blood for the treatment of a specific medical condition such as hemochromatosis or polycythemia vera.


The purpose of bloodletting was believed to be the removal of "bad blood" from the body, which was thought to be the cause of many illnesses. It was also believed to balance the four humors of the body (blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile), which was thought to be essential for good health.


The consequences of bloodletting as a medical treatment varied depending on the circumstances in which it was performed. In some cases, bloodletting may have been beneficial, such as when it was used to treat certain types of infections. However, in other cases, it may have been harmful, especially when it was performed excessively or inappropriately. The risks of bloodletting include infection, anemia, hypovolemia (low blood volume), and shock. In extreme cases, bloodletting could even be fatal.


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References:

  1. Mummification & Medicine: Ancient Egyptian Medical Practices. (n.d.). Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. https://naturalhistory.si.edu/exhibits/mummies/mummification-medical-practices-ancient-egyptian

  2. Bloodletting: A Brief History. (2017, March 29). Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/bloodletting-a-brief-history-2017032911242

  3. Bloodletting. (2021, February 8). Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/bloodletting

  4. Therapeutic phlebotomy. (n.d.). American Association of Blood Banks. https://www.aabb.org/patient-care/treatments/therapeutic-phlebotomy

  5. Sigerist, H. E. (1951). A History of Medicine, Volume II: Early Greek, Hindu, and Persian Medicine. Oxford University Press.






















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