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An Introduction to Renaissance Medicine

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The Renaissance period started around year 1400 and ended around 1700. This was a great time of intellectual growth, advancement in medicine, and artistic development all over Europe. Scientists were starting to move from more conservative views of medicine, in order to keep up with the advancement of new ideas and theories. Knowledge progressed through the scientific method. More experiments, collecting of observations and conclusions were attained. During this time, a new technology was developing: printing. It was becoming much easier to record these advancements in medicine.

During the Renaissance period, medicine was dominated by the influence of the Church. However, doctors were becoming increasingly knowledgeable of the human body. Doctors began translating Arabic texts and also began studying the human anatomy. The first anatomical drawings were drawn by Andreas Vesaliusand Leonardo Da Vinci, using bodies they dissected as their models. Doctors were also on hand to observe these dissections in hopes to learn more about the human anatomy. More often than not, the bodies of "sinners" and criminals were used for these dissections. The Church did not believe in the dissection of "God-fearing bodies." Sometimes, as part of their punishment, "sinners" and criminals were alive at the start of the dissection.

It was believed that sickness was due to the imbalance in the four humors (blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm). Treatments, including bleeding the patient, or induced vomiting, were believed to restore the balance of the four humors. As doctors began to learn more about the body, development in new medicines increased, as well. Pharmacists began experimenting with new plants that were brought from distant lands. Quinine, an ingredient found in the bark of a quina tree, was used to treat malaria. An opium-based painkiller called laudanum was used to treat many disorders up until Victorian times.

Major cities had hospitals during the Renaissance period. Surgery techniques began to improve. Before these improvements, bleeding was stopped by burning the wound with a red hot metal. Many of these surgeons still believe that burning the wound to close it is the best way to stop the bleeding. Despite this fact, some Renaissance doctors tied the wound in order to stop the bleeding. Surgeons used basic tools for their surgery: drill, saw, forceps and pliers for teeth removal. Most Renaissance surgeons learned their skills while on the battlefield. If a surgeon was unavailable, a barber would perform operations, using the same instruments that were used for cutting hair.

More about this author: Shauna Silva

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