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Medicine Developments

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Describe how medicine and surgery improved between 1870 and 1900 Oliver Latham The late 19th century was a period of enormous medical change and progress. Many diseases that had been fatal in 1800 were either treatable by 1900, or a cure would be found very early in the 20th Century using techniques developed by 19th-century scientists. Doctors, chemists, and scientists investigated medicine using new scientific technology made available by the Industrial Revolution, and made discoveries that changed the face of medical practice. Most important was the development of the 'germ' theory (1857) by Louis Pasteur, a discovery that gave doctors and scientists the key to understanding, treating, and preventing disease. There was huge progress in discovering the causes of disease in this period. For centuries common sense had told people that there was a connection between 'dirty' conditions and disease but they had yet to explian what the link was. In the early 1800's it was explained by miasma or 'bad air' which was given off rubbish and decaying matter. In the 1850's however, French scientist, Louis Pasteur became interested in micro - organisms and developed a theory that these 'germs', as he called them, were the cause of the problem. ...read more.


The former had been a scourge of the population, especially children, whereas the other was a leading cause of death in wars due to infected wounds. Such a discovery came about with the knowledge that it was certain substances, called toxins, which some bacterium such as tetanus secrete, that cause disease. There was also improvements in surgery in this period. Surgery in the early 1800's was dangerous and painful. Surgeons had to work quickly and there was no way of completely relieving pain suffered by the patient. Infection was perhaps the greatest danger; germs entering wounds could cause blood poisoning and gangrene. Almost half of all patients who had leg amputations died because of infection. Until the acceptance of the 'germ' theory in the 1860's, surgeons did not take any precautions to protect open wounds. They reused bandages, thus spreading disease from patient to patient. Doctors did not wash their hands before an operation, nor did they sterilise their equipment. However once they concluded that it was the 'germs' that were causing complications surgeons started developing way to prevent them entering wounds. ...read more.


During the same period chemistry was developing and scientists were finding that certain chemicals could have an effect on the body. Ether was used by J.R Listoon in London in 1800 to anaesthetise a patient during a leg amputation. However ether had severe drawbacks. It irrated the lungs, causing the patient to cough during the operation. It was also unstable and produced inflammable vapour. In 1847 the effects effects of chloroform were discovered and it was soon used to help relieve women's labour pains during childbirth. However chloroform was more dangerous to a patient than ether especially when adminsitered by an untrained practioner. Local anaesthetics became more widely used as these did not seem to produce the same side effects as gas treatment. Anesthetics based on cocaine started to be used from 1884. The late nineteenth century marked a time of key discovery. Scientists were able to identify the causes of and largely treat a wide range of diseases. With the knowledge of the 'germ' theory surgeons made greater efforts to prevent the spread of disease in the operating theatre by devising new aseptic and antiseptic methods which, while not perfect, significantly improved the success rate of operations by limiting infection. ...read more.

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